Sailor Spirit

High school dance team, cheerleading squad boost school and team spirit

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Seniors at Steamboat Springs High School snuck out of Mackenzie Little's house the week before school started to play a prank on the younger students.

At 5 a.m. the older girls drove to the younger girls' houses, kidnapped them and dressed them in outrageous clothes.

"We got permission from their parents first," said Sarah Leonard, adding they took them to breakfast after the kidnapping.

What looked like a typical high school prank turned out to be a new cheerleading tradition for Steamboat.

"It's not like a cheerleading initiation, but kind of a team bonding to get to know everyone," said Leonard, co-captain of the cheer squad.

In only its second year at the high school, cheerleading has returned, and girls this year are determined to get the crowd roaring with spirit.

"We're not a very excited school, but cheerleading makes the football game complete," Little said. "The parents are really involved, and even people without kids, but the high schoolers are not really into it. Basically, it's just a social event."

However, cheerleading isn't the only form of initiating spirit at football and basketball games. Although cheerleaders stand in formation and present cheers throughout an athletic event at the high school, the dance team awaits their halftime performance to show their school spirit also.

"I tell them, 'I better hear you cheering them on,'" said Kim Bates, Sailor Dance Team coach.

Whether animosity has grown between the cheer squad and the dance team because of funding from the district or deciphering which sport is more important, the two teams exist to function for the same purpose school and team spirit.

"They can both (co-)exist and feed off each other," Bates said.

The teams do not compete against each other, and when confronted about the other team, all say positive things about each other.

"We totally support them. Half of my friends are cheerleaders," said Darci Heinert, a senior dancer.

Little, captain of the cheer squad, said the rivalry that supposedly exists between the two teams is humorous.

Kathy Jones, cheerleading coach, said aside from the physical activities of each group, the difference between them lies in the time and dedication cheerleaders put toward the athletes.

"We're there from the beginning of the day to the end of the day," Jones said. "We make spirit cookies and make signs supporting the other teams. We try to do things for athletes as well as the fans."

Two years ago, girls who had an interest in cheerleading approached the administration about hiring a cheerleading coach. Administrators OK'd the idea and an ad went into the paper.

Jones just happened to be flipping through the newspaper at her new home in Steamboat when her eyes took a double take on the ad.

Jones has been involved in cheerleading in Texas for more than 10 years. She was a camp manager for the National Cheerleading Association for three years and ran cheer clinics and sponsor classes.

Jones said she's ready to turn over a new leaf with cheerleading at the high school she's ready to make them competition worthy.

And while the cheerleaders continually improve their skills, the dance team will continue to compete in the state competitions, as well as attend other workshops.

Little, senior at the high school, said she wants the cheer squad to compete nationally but understands that more camps and more practice have to come first.

"We probably don't have what it takes this year, but as the numbers increase, I'd like to see the girls go to competitions, something more than just cheering for football games," Little said.

Dance has been at the high school for the past four years and is funded as a sport by the district.

Bates and a high school friend started the dance team with eight girls in the mid-1980s. After Bates' senior year in high school, dance stopped. No one wanted to pursue it, she said.

After on-again and off-again cheerleading and dance teams throughout the past 15 years, Bates said she wanted the position to coach the dance team again.

In the fourth year coaching dance, Bates now has 28 girls. At one time, the girls said there were only three dancers out on the field.

Cheerleading came back, but after dance.

Now, dance is considered a first-tier sport, which is funded by the district, vs. a second-tier sport, which is not funded by the district.

The separation not only appears with how each team participates, but in their coaches' ideas of getting on the team.

"I don't cut any of my girls. There's so much time in life for disappointment and for people to tell you you're not great," Bates said.

"Unlike dance, you actually try out for cheerleader. In Texas, you would never make the squad if you couldn't do some gymnastics," Jones said, adding she mostly gets juniors and seniors, while the dance team is made up of mostly freshmen.

However, both teams will agree on one thing cheerleading and dance are sports.

Bates said the dance team competes at the state level, has to follow regimented guidelines, is required to uphold the same academic status and needs to provide proof of a sport's physical.

"But nobody counts us. We bust our butts just as much as everyone else, but just because we're not physically aggressive toward each other (shouldn't discount us)," Bates said.

Jones said the cheerleading squad falls under the same athletic guidelines as well, paying an athletic fee, getting a physical and attending rigorous training camps, although the squad is not funded by the district.

"We never sit down. We're lifting our peers over our heads and incorporating gymnastics," Jones said disgruntled.

Leonard said she was a dancer for 13 years and never walked away from a practice so sore.

"It's a different physical demand than any other sport," Leonard said.

Both teams practice an average of eight hours a week. Although cheerleaders run, do abdominal work and practice jumps for an allotted time, the dancers stretch out every possible muscle in their body so as not to strain something.

Dancers create new routines for every game and again for final competitions.

Dancers have split their team into beginners and advanced but come together at the end of the performance.

Cheerleading also is divided into fall and winter squads to allow girls to participate in other sports.

"We're still a growing sport. I think it brings in more parents, involves more of the community. It causes more kids in school to be more involved," Jones said of cheerleading in Steamboat.

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