RCHS Winter Gard 2016 in performance dress with 4 little girls.

RCHS Winter Guard 2016 in performance dress with 4 little girls. (Left to right) Front Row (four little girls): Asha Simmons, Karrington Jackson, Dhonnea Lindsay, Aniya Selman. Second Row: Madison Gallien, SallieKate Keffer, Princess Ansah, LauraAnne Hooley, DeUntre Griggs. Third Row: Terrell Kong, Emma Sirmans, Jaeshia Lindsay, Marcus Cain, Samirrah Wright. Back Row: Elysse Camp, Zaharia Selman, Nkima Stephenson.

After three years of relentlessly training and patiently honing their craft, a small and dedicated group of Rockdale athletes has a chance at glory on the international stage, but they need the community’s help with funding to get there.

Rockdale’s star athletes have been steadily rising in the little-known sport of Winter Guard. For years, the Rockdale County High School (RCHS) team has been impressing judges, gathering high marks at regional competitions and turning opposing teams into devoted fans.

Now the Bulldog Winter Guard team, led by instructor Lacarey Hunley, is among the best in the nation, and they’re aiming for gold at the Winter Guard International World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, April 7-9, 2016.

Despite the fundraising activities all year – coupon book sales, food sales, car washes, you name it – they’re still several thousand dollars short. They are asking for support from the community through a crowdfunding account at RCPSpartner.com and gofundme to help them reach their goal of funding for transportation to Ohio. But time is running out.

Rockdale County High Winter Guard students put in long hours of practice for their award winning program "Four Little Girls: The 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing,” designed by instructor Lacarey Hunley. The team is among the top in the nation and is asking for the community's help to get to the Winter Guard International World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, April 7-9.

Rockdale County High Winter Guard students put in long hours of practice.

Part dance, part flag corps, part gymnastics, and part military drills, Winter Guard takes place in the first quarter of the year, after the hoopla of football and marching band dies down. This sport takes place indoors in gymnasiums and incorporates tossing rifles, sabers, twirling flags, dance and artistic expression.

Hunley, who has been in the Winter Guard world since he was 10 years old, said the match between this group of talented students and his programs has been magic. “We’ve been able to portray each show in a way that has just been outstanding,” said Hunley. “Every show we’ve done, I’ve had numerous people come up and say they’ve been touched in such a way. They cried and said “I came here and had no idea I would be so touched by your show.””

Hunley continued, “I’ve taken many other groups to the national competition through the years. But this year’s show, with such a strong message along with these incredible students, really deserves to perform on the national stage, in front of thousands. Not only are we giving RCHS a first time experience, we are educating thousands on history.”

This year is the third of a poignant series of programs Hunley designed. Set in the Civil Rights era, it tells the story of the four little girls who died in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham. Previous programs celebrated the Freedom Riders and have been set to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

RCHS Winter Guard 2016 practice IMG_1724Guard mom Melissa Keffer described the 12-hour-long practices students hold on the weekends on top of 10 hours during the week and very full schedules. “This group of 13 students all have very rigorous academic schedules – including AP classes and other sports and jobs as well,” said Keffer. “Add to that very intense and long practices they have through the week and weekends.  At competitions, they get complimented on their presence off the floor as well as on the floor.”

To donate and help the RCHS Winter Guard team reach Ohio for the international championship, go to www.RCPSpartner.com/currentprojects or www.gofundme.com/has4qpyc . For more information, contact Lacarey Hunley at lacareyvinche@gmail.com or Kevin Brown at rbrown@rockdale.k12.ga.us.