Naperville color guard sending standout performer to All-American Bowl

  • Emily Wilkinson of Naperville Central High School tries on her official Army All-American Bowl jacket during a ceremony Thursday to recognize her as a color guard member of the 125-person band of high school performers from across the country. Army Staff Sgt. China Lee and two other soldiers visited the school to honor Emily's selection as part of the band, which is set to perform Jan. 6 during halftime of the Army All-American Bowl football game for elite high school athletes.

      Emily Wilkinson of Naperville Central High School tries on her official Army All-American Bowl jacket during a ceremony Thursday to recognize her as a color guard member of the 125-person band of high school performers from across the country. Army Staff Sgt. China Lee and two other soldiers visited the school to honor Emily's selection as part of the band, which is set to perform Jan. 6 during halftime of the Army All-American Bowl football game for elite high school athletes. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Emily Wilkinson of Naperville Central High School expresses gratitude for her selection as one of 125 members of the Army All-American Marching Band, which is set to perform Jan. 6 during halftime of the Army All-American Bowl. Emily will be part of the color guard.

      Emily Wilkinson of Naperville Central High School expresses gratitude for her selection as one of 125 members of the Army All-American Marching Band, which is set to perform Jan. 6 during halftime of the Army All-American Bowl. Emily will be part of the color guard. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

Emily Wilkinson of Naperville can twirl flags, rifles, even sabers with practiced ease -- which is clutch, because she'll soon be called up on to do those things on a national stage.

Emily, a senior at Naperville Central High School, is the first member of the Marching Redhawks chosen to participate in the U.S. Army's All-American Marching Band. As a color guard member in the 125-person unit, Emily will perform Jan. 6 at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio during halftime of the All-American Bowl, a football game for elite high school athletes from across the country.

"I love performing and I just really love how theatrical the activity is," 17-year-old Emily said about her participation in color guard, which began nine years ago. "I'm really excited."

To welcome her to the fold, the U.S. Army sent three soldiers, game sponsor American Family Insurance sent an agent and bowl host All-American Games sent a staffer to ceremonially equip Emily with her official band jacket. She was chosen for a color guard spot from more than 400 band and guard members nationwide who were nominated by teachers, like Marching Redhawks Director Brandon Estes and Color Guard Coach Danielle Beaton.

"She's definitely developed a high standard of achievement and performance," Estes said. "We're very, very excited she will represent Naperville Central."

But just as much as the recognition celebrates Emily's hand-eye coordination and color guard skill, it honors her dedication to the practice-makes-perfect theory and the way she acts as a teammate.

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"It's her determination and character," Beaton said about what makes Emily stand out. "She's such a positive role model for everyone. She has a lot of dedication. She's really a strong leader."

Principal Bill Wiesbrook also praised Emily's off-the-field skills.

"The thing I'm most proud of is the character and the dedication that you have that got you to this point," Wiesbrook said.

Recognition for Emily's character comes naturally from the lessons of color guard, which are "life lessons, not just flags on a stick," as color guard Assistant Coach Debbie Wiles puts it.

So in front of her parents, Stacey and Jim Wilkinson, other relatives and nearly 100 marching band members during a recent ceremony, Emily showed her character with words of honor and gratitude for those who have supported her.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She's participated for the past two summers in a traveling competitive band called the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps and has been a Marching Redhawk for her entire four years at Central. During high school marching season in the fall, she practices 10 to 15 hours a week with the group, in addition to time spent on her own perfecting routines.

When she travels to San Antonio on Jan. 1, she'll have an abbreviated time frame to learn a halftime show fit for national TV to perform during the game less than a week later.

All of Emily's supporters know she can do it.

"Things do pay off, and this is another example of it," Estes told her as she donned her band jacket in Army black with gold piping and the All-American bowl logo. "I congratulate you, Emily, and look forward to your performance."

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