By Todd Travis
When you look up the term “powerhouse” in the dictionary, you might find the Center Grove Show Choir program listed as an example. Over the last two years they have established themselves as the team to beat at every level. At their final Grand Championship competition before nationals, they put a stamp on their legacy by winning in every category. Every. Single. One.
“We took all of the show choirs to this competition – varsity mixed, varsity women’s, JV mixed, and JV women’s and they all won Grand Champions. They also won all of the caption awards, which means they had the highest scores and rankings from all the judges,” said Jennifer Dice, one of the directors of the teams.
“I believe that’s probably the first time that’s ever happened which is awesome. We’re very excited it happened,” she continued.
Building on a legacy
The success of this program didn’t just come out of nowhere. There has been an expectation of excellence in the program for years, dating all the way back to the founder of the program, Judy Meeks. She began the program in 1973 – next year will be their 50th year in competition. At the time, they were called “Swing Mates” and they now go by the name “The Debtones” which is the varsity women’s group.
Jennifer Dice has been with Center Grove for 17 years, directing The Debtones for six years and directing Sound System (varsity mixed group) and The Accents (JV women’s) today. Jared Norman directs The Debtones today and Surround Sound (JV mixed group). Greg Sanders is the pianist and arranger for the groups.
“We come in and we work hard, and we push the kids, and they enjoy that. They enjoy being pushed and really excelling. Yes, it’s a super talented group of kids but partly it’s that way because for generations kids have been coming in and working hard and setting an expectation of excellence,” explained Dice.
As the team completed their year in such dramatic fashion, they still had some business to take care of before they could completely celebrate – Nationals. They are the reigning champs from the previous year, and they felt hopeful that they could win it all again. Heading to Nashville, Tenn. to compete for the National title, the team would face a unique challenge that they don’t see during the regular competition season. Facing teams from across the nation means they will see different styles and approaches to the performances that teams bring from their own unique area.
“Show choir has a very regional approach. So the way we do things in Indiana is not the way they do things in California, Mississippi, Massachusetts, or Iowa. Everyone has their own regional approach. We’re going to see a wide variety of style in terms of the approach that teams take to putting together a show choir competition set,” Dice mentioned.
“It’s exciting because when we compete locally, we’re used to seeing things that reflect the values of Indiana – for example, here we’re focused on good singing and vocal technique. So most of the choirs here are very strong in that aspect of the programming. That part of it is exciting just to see something different,” she added.
More than just winning
Winning is always a good feeling and one of the top goals for the show choir program, but it’s not the only one. Developing character through adversity is another high goal the leaders of this program try to instill in the students. The team didn’t win every competition they went to over the year, but they would always come back to the practice room and work hard and not get down on themselves.
“We love that part of it – we’re proud of them for having that mindset and we hope that’s the mindset we’re instilling in them. Things aren’t always going to go your way, but when they don’t that’s not a reason to get down, it’s just a reason to work harder,” Dice stated.
Luckily, this year Center Grove has had the good fortune to build character while winning. After the impressive victories they had at their final Grand Championships, they would go on to win nationals in Nashville – and they did so just as convincingly. Sound System was awarded National Grand Champions in Large Mixed Division, with a caption award for Best Vocals. The Debtones were awarded National Grand Champions in the Large Unisex Division with Caption awards for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Vocals. CG Singers were awarded Grand Champion in the Concert Choir Division. This is the second year in a row that Center Grove Choirs have won National Championship titles with all choirs.
Team members share memories
Emmy Lockhart, senior at Center Grove and company manager at the program shared how meaningful it was to experience such a memorable victory:
“Being my senior year and seeing all the work that the kids have put into their dancing, it just felt really good to see everyone win. There are 56 students in Sound System and all of them show up every day for practice. It was just a real bonding experience too, celebrating and cheering everyone on as they saw their hard work pay off. I just really love being a part of the show,” she recalled.
Soloist Ryan St. Pierre shared his experience in the show:
“Show choir competitions are the most competitive events I’ve ever seen. Every show choir is there to win. My highlight for this last competition was winning star performer and of course being able to win the Grand Championship.”