Twenty years of Glenwood High spirit for cheer coach Jody Jordan
PREPPING FOR Nationals
The Glenwood Springs High School cheerleading squad is getting ready for the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National High School Cheerleading Championship, Feb. 10-11, at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
It isn’t an easy schedule. Jody Jordan’s work days are full, with fourth-grade students at Sopris Elementary School under her watch. She rushes from the elementary school to 4 p.m. cheerleading practice at Glenwood Springs High School, where she is head cheerleading coach.
And, Jordan has a family of her own, with similarly full days. Her husband, Brad, coaches soccer, and each of their children competed, academically or athletically, as they progressed through the school system.
That’s become a way of life for the 20-year coach of the Glenwood Demons.
“I believe that I have been able to do something I love for 20 years because my family has always been so supportive,” Jordan said. “It became a competition in our family to see who would win a state competition.”
Her oldest son, Zac, was a state champion in mock trial and speech and debate, and her middle son, Taylor, was a part of the 2008 state football championship team.
“So the pressure was on for my daughter, Natasha, when she was a senior to be a part of a state winning team,” Jordan said. “She stepped up to the challenge and we won the 2014 state cheer championship.”
Jordan is a Glenwood native who was on the basketball, volleyball and cheer teams at GSHS. Her parents coached junior high basketball, and she played under Coach Spencer and attended camps with Coach Chavez, both of whom the school’s gym is named after. Although she coaches cheerleading, Jordan points to her basketball coaches as inspiration.
“I believe I learned from them how to work hard, but also provide a coaching environment that is fun yet demanding,” she said.
Cheerleading has changed dramatically, even in the two decades since Jordan rejoined the program. Her assistant coach and cheerleaders point to Jordan as the foundation of the squad’s continued success.
It’s a nearly year-round sport, demanding nine months of the participants’ year.
“They’re self-motivated. They coach themselves,” Jordan said.
There’s some truth to that; the squad is clearly made up of self-starters who rally each other to roll out mats and begin warm ups in the school’s auxiliary gym, even before Jordan’s arrival.
But coaching themselves? Not exactly.
“It’s not just the competition,” said squad captain Savannah Kelley. “It’s putting on a good face for the school.”
Jordan emphasizes supporting the school’s teams, although the squad also competes at a national level. She’s a nurturing force who recognizes the balance an assistant coach can add to the squad. Over the years, she’s played the mom role as others have served as motivators, Jordan said. And indeed, Kelley said she thinks of her coach as “Momma Jordan.” (Kelley is also a Post Independent intern.)
A CHANGING GAME
Though Jordan has coached for two decades, each year brings new challenges. About half the squad is made up of returning cheerleaders, and the other half has never cheered before. Jordan works to capitalize on their abilities, even as the specifics change year to year.
That’s especially challenging during competition season. The squad cheers for football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, golf and cross country. They make an appearance at tournaments for some and are a fixture at games of others. But when the cheerleaders compete for themselves, there are other factors to work around.
The squad placed first in the large varsity non-tumble division at the Southern Colorado Regional competition, qualifying for the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National High School Cheerleading Championship. They have a reputation to uphold, with regular top 10 finishes in the last 20 years.
“Once you start to be competitive, each group of girls is motivating the next girls to be better,” she said.
But traveling to the competition in Orlando, Florida, isn’t feasible for everyone. A routine that might have been planned for 19 cheerleaders may have to be reworked for 14, as other obligations require girls to remove themselves.
That requires Jordan to update formations and change stunts, and it also requires the athletes themselves to remain flexible.
“That’s what makes you so proud,” Jordan said. “They’ve come so far.”
Cheerleading trends have changed with the years. Some stunts that would never have been OK’d in 1998 now show up in routines. Others that were fine back then may have been outlawed by competition judges. Likewise, technology has changed how Jordan coaches.
During a recent practice, she observed a stunt group struggling to hit a tough move. After qualifying for nationals, the Demons have increased the difficulty of their routine in hopes of amping it up for nationals.
When Jordan noticed the group dropping the stunt time and again, she pulled out her cellphone and handed it to another squad member. (They aren’t allowed to use their own phones during practice.) The cheerleader took video of the stunt so those involved could slow it down and analyze what went wrong.
LOVE AND DISCIPLINE
Though the girls look at Jordan with affection, she’s not afraid to inject discipline into practices. That’s part of the pursuit of perfection, after all. UCA limits nationals routines to 2 minutes, 30 seconds, including no more than 90 seconds of music and at least one cheer or sideline chant. If the routine runs over, the squad loses three to seven of a possible 100 points.
In practice, when the squad dragged during a chant, Jordan stopped them and drilled the timing. She chanted along with them: “Demons! Yell Demons! D-E-M-O-N-S! Demons! Yell Demons!” Later in the same session, the squad struggled with the recently changed words of a cheer. Jordan brought them into a circle, and they practiced the cheer until everyone was in sync.
“This time it’s pushups if you don’t get it,” she warned them. And sure enough, they soon dropped to the floor. “You have to be focused if you don’t want to do those again.”
But the squad threads laughter through the discipline. Assistant Coach Lyndsay Fangman arrived halfway through the day’s practice, ready to reinforce that message.
Fangman has been on both sides of the gym mat. She cheered under Jordan’s direction from 2007 to 2011, and then joined the squad at the University of Montana. Fangman has been back in town for three years, working as a medical assistant and returning to GSHS’ auxiliary gym for cheer practices at night.
Jordan credits Fangman for bringing a collegiate perspective to the squad, and Fangman admits it creates a competitive advantage. But she’s adamant about all she’s learned from Jordan.
“All the discipline and teamwork, the skills, they travel outside the gym,” she said. “Even though it is just two hours a day, it’s leaked into the rest of my life.”
Jordan introduces Fangman to people throughout the cheer world as they attend summer camps, competitions and coaching clinics. Fangman observes Jordan’s investment in the squad and the people she interacts with at these events. It’s made an impression on the current cheerleaders, too.
“She really makes it feel like you’re part of a family,” said Kelley.
She’s noticed people approaching Jordan at competitions, excited to meet the woman whose dedication has spanned decades.
She’s something of a legend in the region, Fangman said. And Jordan uses competition as a way to bring the squad closer together.
“We are all so supportive of each other,” Savannah Otto-Miller said. Otto-Miller is a senior, and in her third year with the squad. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
“She’ll take our phones so we really have to talk to each other,” Kelley added.
Fangman has seen the lasting effects of relationships built on the gym floor. She was one of seven girls in the class of 2011 who cheered all four years. Each of the seven was on honor roll, too. Even now, nearly seven years after graduation, they remain friends. They attend each other’s weddings and meet each other’s children.
“Coaching is not all about the competitions, the winning or the losing, but it is about empowering young women to gain confidence, learn responsibility and respect,” Jordan said. “It’s about giving girls a place where they can be a part of a family that accepts them no matter what their background.
“When they walk in to the gym and step on the mat, they are all athletes that have the ability to reach their full potential, and it is our job as coaches to help them reach their potential as an athlete and a person. We want them to leave the cheer program better than when they come in and know that they always have a place to come home to.”
Jordan’s fellow coaches, past and present, have been influenced by that philosophy, as well. In addition to Fangman, she’s worked with Kim Richardson, who Jordan knew as a child, Lynn Goluba and Kate Hatch.
“She has been and will continue to be an amazing mentor, coach and role model for all of her students and athletes,” Fangman said.
That’s one of the main things Jordan’s cheerleaders have taken from her coaching: It’s not just about stunts, toe touches and dance routines. There’s more to cheerleading than representing the Demons and encouraging other athletes.
The lessons they learn in the gym prepare Jordan’s athletes for life.
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