Spirit squads across Garfield County set sights on state competition
This year’s road to Colorado’s high school cheer competition isn’t without its twists and turns.
At least for cheer programs across Garfield County, their journeys to the big dance didn’t start at the usual time, which would’ve been summer 2020. Instead, fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions have prevented local cheer squads from performing live.
Football and volleyball were placed on hold, while winter sports like basketball didn’t start until late January.
But if you talk to any cheer coach across the county, they’ll all agree they’re doing what they can to prepare for the ultimate test: performing in front of the judges during the 30th state cheer competition March 25-27 at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
Coal Ridge has dominated 2A/3A cheer in recent memory, and were crowned 2019’s co-ed champions. To boot, Glenwood Springs has garnered four 4A state championships under head coach Jody Jordan, while Grand Valley and Rifle continue to make improvements each year.
Grand Valley head coach Natalie Schievelbein is determined her squad can improve upon their performance last year.
“So last year was actually the first year the girls broke 70 points — it’s rated on a 1 to 100 scale — and the girls came in fourth place,” she said. “Everybody is super, super excited. Right now we’re just focusing on getting ready for our state competition in a month.”
Unlike other schools across Garfield County, Grand Valley is working with a smaller crew of athletes. But there’s a good reason just eight students are suiting up for cheer this year.
In addition to performing at the state competition in March, Schievelbein said her squad plans to compete at the National Dance Alliance championship. Schievelbein said she needs to keep the numbers limited in order to compete in the “small varsity” category at the national competition.
For the Colorado state competition, however, Schievelbein said her team will focus on execution, which is how the judges will be scoring performances. In other words, because stunting will be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, turns and leaps will be highly emphasized.
“So what we’re really looking for this year is very clean, very well executed and zero reductions.” Schievelbein said. “We received zero reductions last year and that’s our goal this year.”
Rifle has been doing everything possible to prepare for March.
“You know what, they’re actually really excited,” head coach Amy Thompson said. “They can’t all cheer together so they’re cheering in little groups, but they are just really excited to be out there again.”
Rife so far has 19 athletes on the cheer team. Of which, seniors Melanie Rodriguez will be looked to for leadership, Thompson said. The Bears also have a boy this year for cheer, Andres Arvizo.
As for the challenges of COVID-19, Bears cheerleaders, who have been able to perform at basketball games so far, have had to do so while wearing masks.
“A lot of them don’t have a voice by the end of the night, because they’re screaming so loud so people can hear ’em,” Thompson said.
Thompson said her team’s goal this year is to gain more notches on the state competition belt.
“Honestly, our goal has been to improve by five places every year,” she said. “Last year, they finished 20th out of 32. So this year, our goal is to just move up from there to maybe top 15.”
Preparing to take on 4A and 5A schools this year, Thompson said the Bears have been using shortened practice times. They’ve been keeping stunting basic, Thompson added.
She was also asked what she wants her team to take away from the season.
“I want them to know that life is tough, and there’s going to be things thrown at them that they have no control over,” she said. “but you can still make it a positive experience and that they have people in their corner that are cheering them on.”
Now that her team’s back cheering on the sidelines and preparing for March, Coal Ridge head coach Alyssa Thurmon will lean on a big group of varsity athletes to get the Titans back to the Front Range.
This year the Titans come equipped with 17 varsity and 8 junior varsity athletes.
“So far, so good,” Thurmon said. “We have five boys on our varsity team this year, so that’s pretty exciting. Four of them play football as well, so they’re doing really well.”
But it won’t be easy for the 2A/3A defending champions. This year Coal Ridge has to do all their routines while wearing COVID-19 masks.
“Right now we’re able to practice and stunt. It’s pretty much the same but we do have to wear masks, so that’s been kind of a challenge, especially with tumbling,” Thurmon said.
So far practice has consisted of sessions three times a week as well as weight room sessions twice a week, said Thurmon.
Of her five seniors, Thurmon said she looks to Christian Vasquez and Haleigh Porter, two athletes who’ve been in the program all four years.
“They’re really excited,” Thurmon said.
In addition to trying to make another push at the state competition this year, Thurmon was asked what she wants her team to take away from this unique season.
“I think for this year, I just want them to be grateful for the opportunities that they have and just to have fun,” she said.
Demons spirit coach Jody Jordan is just happy the action is slowly but surely starting to pick up again for her team.
“I think the biggest part about it, I think this is awesome for their mental health,” Jordan said of cheer being back. “It’s an outlet for them to let their fears out, they can talk to us about how they’re feeling and they have friends that they can talk to that aren’t just in school.”
Under COVID-19 guidelines, however, Demons cheer hasn’t been able to get much practice in.
“Usually we try to be very competitive, but with everything that we’ve dealt with this year — being able to hardly practice until Jan 18 — it’s just a new perspective.”
The Demons, which under Jordan’s 23-year tutelage have amassed four state titles and two runner-ups, come equipped with 16 athletes on the squad this year. One of whom, senior Grace Hall, will be looked upon for leadership.
“She’s the one with the most competitive background from competing over the last four years, Jordan said. “She’ll push (the team) to their best and leads by example.”
Jordan said Glenwood Springs has some stiff competition to overcome at this year’s state competition. Front Range foes, in particular, will give the Demons a run for their money.
“A lot of the people that we compete against are in the Denver area, and they go to cheer gyms constantly,” Jordan said.
Despite the challenges that rest ahead, Jordan said her team is taking everything in stride.
“We never give up,” she said. “We’re just going to push them and get the best out of them that we can.”
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