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The Bearcat Winter Guard, pictured above, advanced to its international competition this spring. (Submitted photo)

The Bearcat Winter Guard, pictured above, advanced to its international competition this spring. (Submitted photo)

April 7, 2021

Bearcat Winter Guard advances to international semifinals

By Sidney Lowry, communication assistant

Northwest Missouri State University’s Bearcat Winter Guard is competing in the international semifinals for the first time in its history this spring.

Founded in 2017, the organization is a team of 11 students who work with directors to create a show with coordinating flags, costumes and choreography to a theme. They are judged in four categories – equipment, movement, design analysis and general effect – as well as criteria such as difficulty and risk and program concept.

Although COVID-19 has put restrictions on the group, Kylie Mattke, the volunteer director of the Bearcat Winter Guard, said it also has allowed for new opportunities.

“I am really proud of all the work that they put into it,” Mattke said. “It’s really exciting because there are other strong winter guard programs in the state and it’s nice to get up on that level.”

This spring marks the second consecutive year the winter guard has earned the opportunity to compete in the Winter Guard International competition, but it is their first time appearing on a national and global stage. The 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the team is competing virtually this year as a member of the Mid Continent Color Guard Association.

The Winter Guard’s 2021 show theme, “The Courage to Persist,” is inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and events of 2020. 

“We designed special costumes, different colored flags and then we designed the show with choreography and different movement across the floor to showcase that theme and that emotion,” Mattke said.

Performances may be viewed online at FloMarching, although a subscription is required. Final performances will be available Saturday, April 17, and Sunday, April 18.

Junior Rylee Norman, an elementary education major from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has been a member of the guard for three years and serves as its vice president of records. She says performing for a camera instead of a crowd is a different experience than she was used to, but she still is happy to be performing.

“We feed off the crowd and it’s been weird not having that, but I’ve noticed that when we are performing, we still feel some of that energy,” Norman said. 

The Winter Guard practices for five hours each Sunday and uses the judges’ feedback from previous performance to improve.

“We are working on the fine, fine details – things that, from an audience perspective, you think we wouldn’t be looking at,” said Ashleigh Bixler, a junior psychology major from Grain Valley, Missouri, who is president of the Bearcat Winter Guard. “It could be all the way from hand placement to making sure that everyone’s flags are at the same place at the same time.”

With unity and cohesion playing an important part of their shows, Bixler said that is one of her favorite parts of being a member of the guard.

“It allows for our team to be incredibly close,” she said. “It also makes us cleaner in how we work and how it looks on the floor.”

For more information about the Bearcat Winter Guard, contact Kylie Mattke at


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
Room 215