Palmer's achievements in coaching winter guard receive accolades, recognition


Brian Nemiroff

In addition to a teaching load of three AP English Literature classes, and his administrative duties as the English department head, Lindell Palmer has a demanding schedule as coach, teacher, and director of two winter guard teams. He also consults with two other high school teams, and he volunteers to choreograph and teach routines to the FHS color guard.
Palmer directs the Stonewall Independent winter guard, a team that is currently ranked sixth in the world by Winter Guard International (WGI). Moreover, Palmer coaches Westfield High School’s winter guard team, which in 2015, its first year, took a gold medal at the Atlantic Indoor Association competition. He estimates that he works an additional 36 hours each week from November to mid-April, coaching his teams to reach their highest potential and hoping to spread the sport’s popularity.
Palmer became interested in the sport as a sophomore in high school because he had a crush on a girl who did color guard.
“One day I was talking to her after school, and she was spinning a rifle. She said it was really hard, but I said it looked really simple, so I started doing it. I had a natural talent at it,” Palmer said. “She was impressed, so she went and got her guard instructor. He came and watched me do it; then he got the band director, and they all watched me do it. They were all impressed that I could do it with no training, so that’s how I began.”
In a strange twist, after Palmer agreed to join the team, the girl dropped out of color guard, but he had already found his love for the sport. Palmer joined an independent team called Revelation, located in Richmond, while attending William and Mary. He also began coaching teams.
“My first coaching gig was Denbigh High School,” Palmer said. “I taught them a routine, and I got a little money for that, so I thought, ‘Hey, this is nice.’ After that I went and taught at several different schools in Williamsburg while I was in college, and then I started working at Liberty High School.”
Although color guard is traditionally performed outdoors and accompanies the marching band, winter guard is performed indoors to recorded music. Teams are divided into Scholastic or Independent divisions by WGI classifications. Scholastic winter guard teams consist of members who all attend the same high school, while Independent teams are not connected to a school and membership is more selective.
Palmer’s specialty is winter guard. Described by WGI as the “sport of the arts,” winter guard is based on military ceremonies and combines many different skills, including choreography and dance, theatre, gymnastics, costuming, and the spinning of flags, swords, and rifles.
“Today’s top winter guards really are giving you an entire performance, and it involves a lot of dance and acting,” Palmer said. “When you watch some of the best color guards in the world, it is art; they are producing art. They are taking stories that you know or famous art pieces and making them come alive on the floor right in front of you. It’s like watching the rhythmic gymnasts you see at the Olympics. It’s hard to believe what they’re doing.”
According to Palmer, although winter guard is very popular in Texas and the northeast, it is slowly receiving recognition locally.
“There are independent teams that are treated like professional sports players, so there are people that follow them and buy their gear, [but] people that don’t hear about it, don’t even know that it exists,” Palmer said. “A couple years ago, there was a major competition here at Fauquier High School. Most of the students didn’t even know that it occurred, and didn’t realize the caliber of the performers here at their school.”
Palmer enjoys working with the high school teams, including the FHS color guard, Westfield, Pride of Prince William County, and Herndon High School, because of the bonds he forms with students as he watches them progress through four years of training. However, from an artistic standpoint, he has found that independent teams are more satisfying to coach.
“First of all, the ages vary, so independent teams normally go from age 15 to 23, and so you have a lot more mature individuals participating in it. That makes a big difference,” Palmer said. “They are more focused; they come there because they already love what they’re doing. You can push them harder, so we have more intense rehearsals, longer rehearsals, because they are there for a purpose, and they enjoy what they do.”
Palmer began directing at Stonewall Jackson High School in 2004. In 2013, Palmer’s high school team transitioned to Independent class, and he took them to the largest competition in the country to compete at the WGI world championships. He had been coaching some members of the team for three years, so the team had progressed and formed very tight bonds.
“I didn’t want to separate them because they were so good,” Palmer said. “Some kids were getting ready to graduate, so I said, ‘Let’s try to go as far as we can.’ The kids themselves did not believe they could do that well because they were from a small school from Virginia.”
Some parents were concerned that these ambitions would result in failure and that Palmer was setting them up for disappointment. However, these fears disappeared when the team placed first at regionals.
“We went to our first regional, and we won it without question. It was just funny because I went in and told the kids that our goal was to make finals at the regional, but not only did we make finals, we went first place across the world,” Palmer said. “At that point I realized that we had something special, and we could probably medal at world championships.”
The team went on to capture the silver medal at the WGI world championship in its first year of competition, and it has made it to the finals every year since 2013.
Palmer’s reputation has grown along with the success he has brought to the teams he has coached. Since his start with Stonewall, all of his coaching jobs have resulted from schools or programs contacting and recruiting him. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the AIA Hall of Honor for his contributions to the sport.
“It was quite the honor; I wasn’t expecting it at all. They don’t tell you ahead of time, so I had no clue it was coming, but when they called my name I realized that my parents were there and all of my friends that had been notified,” Palmer said. “There were several students that I had taught in the past who are now directors, as well. It was a nice feeling seeing all of my students out there supporting me and people that I had marched with when I was much younger.”
Palmer still works with former students through Stonewall Independent and as a mentor for those who have gone on to coach. Devon Robinson first met Palmer when he joined the winter guard at Stonewall Jackson. Palmer’s teaching allowed Robinson to excel in winter guard, and after graduating, he now works as Palmer’s assistant.
“I think Mr. Palmer’s strengths as a coach are his limitless creativity and composure during the hectic and stressful moments of rehearsal,” Robinson said. “I am astounded whenever I see his choreography for the group. When Mr. Palmer works with our group, he’s building a foundation for excellence and opportunity for the future.”
~nathaniel thomason, staff reporter

Top left: Lindell Palmer does a warm up routine in 2011 with the Stonewall High School winter guard before competition to help the performers breathe, stretch, and relax. Several performers went on to join Stonewall Independent (below left), who are shown in the final pose of the 2016 World Championship at which the team placed sixth in the world. Right: Stonewall Independent strikes the opening pose for their 2015 World Championship performance. The team placed ninth in the world.