It had been four years since Gwen Morgan last coached a drill team.
After 35 years of coaching, she had retired from the scene, focusing instead on her day job as a bus driver in Hartford.
But when she got a call from Jackie Thornton, a high school student in Hartford who wanted her help assembling a team, she couldn't say no.
"When Jackie called, it was my sign," Morgan says.
That was more than a year ago.
Now, the 25-member group known as Another Bad Creation Drill Team and Drum Corps (ABCs for short) has danced in several drill competitions, often winning.
Drill dance is a synchronized style of dancing based on military drills that focuses on precise movements, straight lines and sharp transitions to music. Another Bad Creation uses a live drum team to create the music for its routines.
On Tuesday, 16 of the team members performed, with guidance from Morgan, at the Hartford Community Garden on Niles St. to a crowd of approximately 30.
But it's their own event that the drill-and-drum team is most excited about.
Tonight at 7 p.m., Another Bad Creation hosts Drill-O-Rama, a drill dance competition at Ron-A-Roll in Vernon.
So far, five teams are competing for a cash prize. (Second- and third-place teams receive trophies.) Each team of 25 that enters the competition pays $50; spectators pay $10.
Plans To Travel
The ABCs hope that the money raised will cover the costs of future competitions in Connecticut; the big goal is to send the team to a competition in Ohio in August, which will cost $10,000.
"I really want to take them out to see what's going on elsewhere, not just here, but competitions around the world," Morgan says. "I have to get them out of here. If they stay here, all they're going to learn is what they see. We want to do something positive for them."
Though they've been trying to raise money through bake sales and car washes, people haven't been responding as positively as Morgan had hoped.
"I don't get it. I really don't get it," she says. "I don't have time for politics; it's about the kids. So we're pretty much on our own and we get what, we get. I would love to have some sponsors that aren't about politics."
They have gotten some help from Hartford Community Center and its executive director, Deborah Garner, who provide the team with a space to practice and help with expenses, when possible.
"They take care of us as much as they can," Morgan says.
Natalie Ruff, one of the team captains, says, "Even though we're basically an independent team, we need help from our community, too, because that's who we represent."
To make the Hartford community proud, the team — ranging in ages from 10 to 24 — practices six hours a week during the school year, 20 hours a week in the summer.
The routine and music changes for each competition. Thornton, another team captain, does most of the choreography.
"Sometimes I'll just start dancing and if everybody likes it, we'll put it in the routine," Thornton says.
The drum team is a crucial component, too. Led by Harold Ortiz, the drummers provide the beats for the drill team (and also perform alongside the drillers).
"I'm in charge of the whole percussion section, all the beats, all the rhythms, everything," he says. "But I don't do it all by myself. Everyone helps, too."
It's Show Time
By now it's nearly 6:30 p.m. and it's time for the team to perform.
"Our crowd's about to die down," Thornton announces. "Let's go."
And like that, the team gets in position and launches into the routine, moving with confidence and power in sync to the beat of the live drums and cymbals.
The crowd enthusiastically cheers for the team, dancing and clapping along for the 20-minute performance. When the group finishes — slightly out of breath, but laughing, smiling and celebrating a job well done — Morgan says, "I love my team."
Another Bad Creation isn't her first, though. She's coached three teams before, and started drilling when she was 7. She got into coaching at 15.
"I loved everything about drilling: the arts, the discipline, everything," Morgan says. "I was a DCF child. To me, that was my family. Everything that they gave me, I wanted to give back to my community, to the kids that went through what I went through in life."
As a coach, she's taken in a lot of kids, feeding, dressing and caring for them.
"I didn't want them to go through what I went through," she explains.
Morgan continues to pay for transportation costs and registration fees out of pocket, despite the fact that she coaches for free.
She says simply, "This is what I do. It all goes back to everybody wanting to give back. We do what we've got to do. I love it."
Drill-O-Rama is today at Ron-a-Roll Indoor Skating Center, 85 South Frontage Road, Vernon from 7:30-11 p.m. Admission is $10. Teams of 25 pay $50 per team to join. To register or for questions, contact Gwen at 860-888-7291. For more information on how to donate to Another Bad Creation, call the Hartford Community Center at 860-232-8081.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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