The Montesano cheer and dance squad qualified for state competition this month in two categories, pom and military.
The team got a school record score 242.45 in military which gave them first place in a combined Class 1A and Class 2A Districts IV competition on March 7 in Vancouver. They also qualified for state in the pom competition.
This is the seventh consecutive year the squad has qualified for state.
Sadly, the closure of schools at least until late April has put a damper on their hopes of winning a state title.
Coach Kelsey Cole said the state competition has been postponed with no discussion as to when it might be rescheduled.
“The kids are trying to remain hopeful,” she said. “My seniors have expressed they have that fear in the back of their mind that districts may end up being their last time competing with their team and if that happens they will be heartbroken.”
It could be a disappointing end to what could be the longest competitive season in high school sports.
The squad began pracwwwticing around May, before the end of the previous school year. They practice all school year, including practices before school from November through March.
“Our team is a little bit unique at our school because it’s a cheer and dance team. It’s a combined program,” Cole said. “They cheer at all of the football and basketball games and they perform at halftime as a dance team.”
In order to be ready for the first fall sports games, the team practices through the summer.
“Because our sport season is so long, you become really close with the people on your team,” senior captain Kallista Hultman said. “It takes a lot of work so you become really close with your teammates.”
It was a sentiment the co-captains reinforced.
“Dance and drill mean a lot to me because we’re our own little family,” junior co-captain Taylor Stenback said.
“It’s like a family to me. It’s a place where I can always share everything I need to and I can trust them,” junior co-captain Cassadie Golding said.
As long as there have been cheerleaders, there have been critics questioning whether cheerleaders should be considered athletes. The Montesano squad takes inspiration from that criticism.
“We struggle at Montesano because a lot of students don’t really respect what we do,” Hultman said. “We say that it’s a sport, but technically to (Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association), it’s not. We struggle with a lot of people doubting us or belittling us. But it kind of motivates us a lot more to do better and pushes us a lot harder at competitions.”
The squad works as hard as any other Bulldogs squad, and they know it, because several of them are on the other teams.
“Drill is hard core. People don’t understand how difficult drill really is,” Stenback said recently after a softball practice. “I play a lot of sports, so I came into drill and was like, ‘I got this. This is going to be so easy. It’s just dance.’ But no. It’s so difficult.
“In physical sports, you think, ‘I just have to sprint a lot.’ But then you get a full routine with choreography and stunts and vocals, and you’re projecting the whole time and you have to have good posture. It’s an entirely different world.”
There’s even an individual element at the competitions, the drill down. A judge barks out orders, in the style of a military drill instructor to all the individual competitors. The order get progressively more difficult and, one by one, the field winnows until only one person remains.
This year Golding took first place at the regional competition in a field of students from 1A, 2A and 3A schools.
“I personally am a very competitive person, so (competition is) my favorite part of the whole season,” Golding said. “It’s a way to get everything out. People always talk about dance as being expressive, and it is, because you can just show up at practice and get it all out.”