BILOXI -- Sometimes, Jennifer Scrimpshire's show choir members feel more like her children than her students. The team, which is in its third year under her direction, is in the peak of competition season.
For the next seven weeks, the Sound Surge will perform in competitions across the South. Last weekend, they left Biloxi at 2:30 on Friday and got back home on 1:30 a.m. Sunday -- as 2016 Grand Champions of the small mixed division at the Jackson Prep Show Choir Masters.
"There are days that they are with me more than they're with their biological parents," she said.
And the 31 students are all different. And they all have strong personalities.
"It's no different than having siblings at home, because we're together so much," Scrimpshire said. "They do work well together. They argue and fuss and squabble just like siblings do, but there's nothing we can't move past and work through and get over."
Show choir, an art that combines singing and dance, is a moving form of storytelling. The Biloxi High Sound Surge is the only competing high school show choir on the Coast.
And at a Thursday practice, the teens meant business.
After the first round of their six-song competition routine, junior Sable Mayberry checked the mirror to make sure her hair didn't fall out of her headband. The spunky junior, dressed in an Iron Maiden T-shirt, high top Converse sneakers and pizza socks, had an individual dance spot in the girls' performance of "Toxic" by Britney Spears.
Junior Corey Brown was drenched in sweat by the time he finished the first run-through, for there were parts of the routine where he lifted girls, sang, danced and did a few toe touches from his riser.
Eleventh-grade student Emily McFadden was dancing so hard in her combat boots, the ponytail holding back her hair ended up on the floor. Captain Ryan Raines performed a flawless foutte, a ballet term for "whipped turns," and got right back into the choreography after his solo.
The entire show choir plays a huge role in the overall routine. There's an intro number, a group number, a hymn, an all-male routine, an all-female routine and a closing number.
"I stop them if there's an issue," Scrimpshire said. If every single person's hand is not in the right place, then I stop them and we do it again, or if there's a note that's wrong, we stop, I fix it, and we do it again.
"It's just repetition and focus. Lots of focus on their part."
A lot of hours
They have a choir class during school every day and practice for three hours after school twice per week. When it's competition season, it's not unlikely to have 6-hour rehearsals on Saturdays.
"They're very committed. They have to be, because we compete seven weekends in a row."
Scrimpshire, who is from Jones County, took the position with purpose of creating a show choir team ready that was ready to compete against other schools.
When she took over as director, there were 13 students in choir. In the spring, 60 students auditioned.
The students perform three shows a year -- a fall show for the community, their competition routine, and a spring musical with the Biloxi High drama department.
"We have this use process -- choosing the show, finding a theme, finding plenty of songs in different genres for that theme, getting it arranged, paying copyright fees, hiring a choreographer to come in and teach the choreography to them and putting it together and getting ready for contests."
No real down time
And during down time at practice, the kids are still singing. They'll turn on the radio and dance to some of their favorite songs on the radio - "Sorry" by Justin Bieber, "Focus" by Ariana Grande and "Apologize" by Timbaland and One Republic were the inspiration for impromptu song-and-dance sessions on Thursday.
For their 2016 competition show, Columbus choreographer McCoy Flood, dance teacher at Lowndes County Dance Company, came in and helped the group. Scrimpshire taught him when he was just a dance student.
Flood started the show, and student captains and choreographers Ryan Raines and Savannah Goolsby-Belcher finished it.
Raines and Belcher are juniors, and Scrimpshire said she hopes they will continue to help choreograph routines -- even after graduation.
"It's a ton of work for them," she said. On top of regular practice and maintaining straight A's in school, Raines and Belcher work together during their free time to create routines for shows.
Raines, who loves to dance, was inspired by his brother who dances on Broadway, but he never knew he would be so good at teaching choregraphy until he started show choir.
"It's really fun to do. It's difficult, but I really enjoy it because I like anything that has a creative aspect to it. I never really saw this as something I would do, but joining show choir has let me do that," he said.
Goolsby-Belcher said a friend convinced her to try out for the Sound Surge.
"I would never have really pictured myself doing show choir, but now it's my everything and I'm in love with it, and it's been a huge blessing to my whole life," she said. "It's really rewarding to know all the hard work you've put in just like really paid off -- especially when you get a victory."
The teen choreographers said it's nice that more and more students are realizing what they do. Goolsby-Belcher said some of her friends and classmates told her congratulations on their weekend win, and that meant a lot.
"It's a lot more than I think people realize it is," Scrimpshire said. "They're singing, but they have to sing their part with the right words, the correct dynamics, and they have to dance the right choreography in the right stage blocking -- somethings with, sometimes without a partner -- they have to execute it well, they have to do all their facials. It's large, it's a lot that goes in."
The Biloxi Sound Surge competed at the South Jones Invitational in Ellisville on Saturday. They will compete in Poplarville, Purvis, Laurel, Petal and Oak Grove in the next five weeks.