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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Color Guard Captains Ari Coulekar and Keira Humphries Reflect on Time as Leaders

Sabareesh Dinakaran
Waiting for rehearsal to begin, color guard captains Ari Coulekar ‘24 and Keira Humphries ‘24 stand ready with their rifles to learn new choreography for their winter guard show. The captains have made sure the members of the Color Guard are ready to have a productive rehearsal and know what equipment to have. “The guard is very, very enthusiastic about everything right now,” Coulekar said. “I remember at the show reveal, everybody was super excited about the show and suggesting things already even though it hadn’t even started yet.”

The captains took place under the blinding fluorescent lights of the Alamodome, ready to perform their show for the massive audience cheering them on and the judges up in the stands. The drum majors started conducting, and with a deep breath in, the captains performed one last show with the Westwood Warrior band.

The Westwood Color Guard is led by captains Keira Humphries ‘24 and Ari Coulekar ‘24 who are in their second year as captains and final year of color guard with the Westwood Warrior Marching Band.

The two captains had similar starts to their journey in color guard, both coming from backgrounds in dance and Humphries having been exposed to the marching band due to her experience playing the oboe in middle school. 

“I knew right from the start that I wasn’t going to be able to march my instrument, but I also have loved dance and gymnastics for my whole life,” Humphries said. “Color guard was a choice that I made so that I could be in marching band still and get to dance.”

Starting their color guard journey during the COVID-19 pandemic, Humphries and Coulekar had a rather unusual first year of color guard, learning techniques through video calls with their instructor where they had to figure out a lot of skills on their own. 

“I still remember the feeling of setting up my camera and my computer outside sitting on the edge of my windowsill because our first experience was online band camp, and I had to make sure that my computer wouldn’t overheat in the summer,” Coulekar said. “Learning in my backyard was such a weird experience because during my sophomore year if I had a question, someone could come up to me and show me what was going on, but if I was confused learning online, there wasn’t much I could do about it.”

They eventually got to experience a real marching season in the 2021 show Human Again where they advanced to the UIL State competition for the second time in the school’s history. They experienced many hardships transitioning from online school to rigorous in-person rehearsals and competitions, but they developed a love for the sport that made it one of their most memorable high school experiences.

“Human Again pushed me very, very hard that year, and my situation was a little bit different just because I was a sophomore who had never touched a rifle before suddenly being thrown onto the rifle line,” Humphries said. “The show was pretty special to me and a lot of the people who were in it just because it was the first year back, and we still managed to make state for the second time in school history.”

After two years of being a part of the guard and their experience with Human Again, Humphries and Coulekar decided to try out for leadership positions. Inspired and encouraged by previous leaders who helped them grow as performers and people, the two aspired to make a better learning environment for the guard. They both were accepted as co-captains for the 2022-2023 school year with alumni Casper Smith ‘23 serving as the head captain. 

“My freshman and sophomore year, I had looked up to a bunch of the upperclassmen in the guard, and I realized that I wouldn’t be where I was without those people,” Coulekar said. “Realizing that if I tried out for leadership, I could be that kind of role model for an underclassman, was a monumental thing for me because I wanted to return the favor that people had given me.”

At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the previous director Christopher Josey left the Warrior Band program for a position at another school, leaving the color guard without a director for the next summer band camp and the 2022-2023 school year. With minimal experience as leaders, the newly selected captains and Band director Brittany Dacy were left to take care of the color guard until they got a new director.

“Mrs. Dacy was a really important figure for the three of us when we didn’t have a director. I don’t know how far we would have made it without Mrs. Dacy because we were falling apart but trying to keep it together for the guard,” Humphries said. “I think coming out of it, I realized that I actually do have the ability to be a leader because I was very skeptical when I was going into it.”

Eventually, the color guard got a new director, Mark Istratie, who guided them with their 2022-2023 show Beyond the Brick along with several other new staff members who helped color guard during rehearsals. At first, the captains saw the year as uncertain, but the color guard managed to get back into the swing of rehearsing and got used to the changes in staff and the rigorous schedule they had that season. 

“I think a tricky part at the start of the season was trying to open up everybody else’s minds once [Mr. Istratie] got here because I feel like a lot of people sort of formed their own opinions before they knew who he was just based on experience with previous staff,” Humphries said. “I think meeting a ton of new [staff members] was interesting — it was cool to see how they taught because a lot of the ways that they teach is very different from how we were taught before.”

Coulekar and Humphries experienced their most challenging marching season yet with this year’s show Birds on a Wire, which pushed not only the color guard but also the entire marching band. The captains believe that this has been one of the strongest years the color guard has had in terms of growth along with accomplishing several amazing feats such as advancing to UIL State for the third time in school history and placing third at the BOA St. Louis competition.

“Being able to help the guard grow and see everyone’s progress at the end of the season has been fulfilling for me as a captain,” Coulekar said. “This season was very stressful for everyone because of how hectic our schedule was, but being able to help some of those people and provide support to the guard was a really good experience.”

 As captains, Coulekar and Humphries have several responsibilities to ensure the guard has the support it needs to have productive rehearsals. This includes making sure members have all of their equipment before rehearsals but also informal responsibilities such as making sure members can balance school work with the band’s rigorous rehearsal hours. 

“Our formal responsibilities include making sure everybody’s on task, starting rehearsal on time, making sure everybody’s got their water bottles filled and that all their equipment is taped correctly,” Humphries said. “We also have informal responsibilities like checking in on members and making sure that they’re not super stressed out outside of rehearsal and doing anything we can to help them.”

This year, the leadership was extended from just captains to include family leaders who are model members of the guard. Family leaders are assigned a small group of people to work with in and out of rehearsals. During a rehearsal, family leaders spend their time with their assigned group of people, working together to learn or clean choreography. Outside of rehearsals, family leaders make sure that their family members are aware of upcoming rehearsals and events. 

“A lot of the newer members need more one-on-one time, because not only are they trying to grasp these skills for the first time, [but] they’re also learning hard [choreography], so having the family leaders there to take on some of those responsibilities was very helpful,” Coulekar said. “Last year, we had to make sure that at least two captains were there at all times because we didn’t want the color guard to only have one person or no person to help, but now if we’re gone, the family leaders act as a sort of support net for the team.”

The captains are about to head into their last winter season with the Westwood Color Guard and are excited to see how far the team can go after having such an intense and successful marching season. 

“The guard is very, very enthusiastic about everything right now. I remember at the show reveal, everybody was super excited about the show and suggesting things already even though it hadn’t even started yet,” Coulekar said. “The guard’s attitude has changed a lot from when I was an underclassman, and it’s really great to see just how much they want to try and make this thing that we haven’t even started on so good.”


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About the Contributor
Sabareesh Dinakaran
Class of 2025 I love writing and playing music, drawing and Pokemon. I am also a member of Garageband and Color Guard.

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