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Stampede Girls Clinch National Championship


Stampede Girls Clinch National Championship

The Oakdale Stampede Cheer Competition Team against the bright Las Vegas lights, at a team dinner at the Rain Forest Cafe the night before clinching the National Championship title in their division, Friday, Jan. 20. Pictured, back row from left: Coach Amanda Wilson, Coach Mallory Baity; middle row: Eryleigh Sheetz, Gianna Fields, Macy Cerda, Callie Hanson, Madison Miller, Ashleigh Gerdes; fron...

POSTED January 25, 2017 9:53 a.m.
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Two minutes and 30 seconds … that’s all the time competition cheerleaders have to hit their routine and impress the judges.

And that’s exactly what 11 Oakdale athletes did to bring home the title of National Champion at the JAMZ Youth National Cheer Competition in Las Vegas, Friday, Jan. 20.

Taking the top prize – including blinged out champion jackets – in a stacked division wasn’t a walk in the park for the young team but you’d never know it by their performance.

The girls, ages 11 to 13, some of whom had never competed before, received a crash course in deductions, complicated stunt routines, heartbreak, bruises and injuries as they worked their hearts out to win that ultimate title of National Champion.

The recreation football league’s cheer division embarked on this journey with the hope and belief that the talent would carry them and they weren’t wrong.

With primary coaches Mallory Baity and Amanda Wilson at the forefront, the squad prepared for hours of hard work, sore muscles, and exhaustive practices with one goal in mind – the win.


The Dream

Talk of a competition cheer team for the recreation league started a year before the season began when support and interest started to buzz.

Outgoing Oakdale Stampede VP of Cheer, Kim Sheetz, knew what an endeavor it would be to charge forward with a team and also knew there were big expectations.

“Four years ago, Oakdale Stampede Cheer took the stage and came home national champs and we wanted that same outcome,” Sheetz said. “The only way that was going to happen was to make sure we had the talent and the dedication to go out there and represent.”

Along with outgoing Stampede Spirit Coordinator, Alicia London, (who recently accepted the position of VP of Cheer from Sheetz), they started the ball rolling.

And there was no question that they would need a choreographer who knew their stuff.

Without hesitation, the team looked to Katey Giovannoni-Choate, a choreographer with hometown love in her heart for the Cowboy Capital.

“The Stampede had worked with Katey for years and we knew she was the perfect fit right from the start,” Sheetz said. “Katey has an incredible talent for inspiring young athletes as well as creating winning routines. Honestly, she was our first and only choice.”

An Oakdale High alum, Giovannoni-Choate performed as a Mustang cheerleader as well as a competition cheerleader, bringing home four Nationals titles, before turning her sights to choreography.

For Giovannoni-Choate, the opportunity to lead the next generation to victory was nothing short of amazing and an automatic yes.

“I travel all the time doing choreography and training teams for cheer and dance,” she said. “So when Oakdale asked me to be a part of this, I couldn’t say no. It’s an honor to be considered being one’s choreographer and trainer. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to be working in this fabulous town, where I live, where I am raising my own children. I felt it was my time to stand behind the scenes and give back. Growing up, I had so many people believe in me, from my family, friends, and amazing coaches. It’s an honor to now repay what I once had.”

And when that team hits a flawless routine, earning top honors? Giovannoni-Choate gushed, saying, “Time stands still in that moment when they announce your team’s name as first place. It’s a huge victory for everyone involved. You invest so much passion, creativity and time with these amazing athletes and only want the best for them.”

But for Giovannoni-Choate, it isn’t only about the win; it’s about building up strong athletes for the future.

“I feel it’s my job to build my students’ confidence. When you not only believe in a child but make them believe in themselves, that’s when they become unstoppable,” she said. “With that, the victories are not only about becoming a national champion but watching your students master all the skills that you give them and seeing them shine out on the competition floor.”

New gym Infinite Athletics Cheer and Dance stepped up to provide a practice venue for the girls (as well as coaching support as needed), which turned out to be a huge asset as many of the girls also took advantage of the classes offered by a world-class staff.

The right music, the best combination of dance, cheer, stunts and tumbling, and the team was off to a beautiful start.


The Journey

But as most people know, the road to success is rarely smooth.

“We did have challenges through the season,” Baity said. “We lost two girls to injury, we had sickness going around and about two weeks before Vegas, we had another girl get injured and could not practice until the week we were leaving. But these girls pushed through every obstacle that was in front of them. I am so proud of them, they truly deserved this win.”

Wilson agreed, saying, “There were ups and downs. Good and bad days, but they pulled together when needed. The amount of time we had was a challenge because they had never done competition before … they have so much talent and I wanted them to succeed so much. They did exactly that.”

For Wilson, the opportunity to coach a competition team was a full-circle venture as her own competition team with Modesto gym, Starstruck, took National Champion in 2015.

“I was so nervous as a coach,” Wilson admitted, going from competitor to coach. “I was so proud and happy. They couldn’t have done any better. I love all those girls so much. I wish them the best in furthering themselves as cheerleaders.”

For Baity, the competitive experience was a new one but Baity had spent the last two years coaching for Stampede in some capacity or another, including head coaching the peewee squad last year.

And the end result of winning the title?

Not too shabby.

“Winning the national champion in our division was surreal!” Baity said. “I think I was more nervous than the girls were. It was so amazing to see all of their hard work and dedication pay off in that moment … as a coach you want the best for them, and I would see improvement every practice from the girls. They would get so excited when they would accomplish something new and they would really push themselves to try harder.”

When asked about their favorite moments, Wilson said watching them perform was the best.

“They know how to put on a show and they have so much personality,” she said.

Baity shared a different moment.

“My favorite moment from this season was seeing the girls perform at the (Mustang Varsity) basketball game right before leaving for Vegas,” she said. “The music shut off in the middle of the routine and the crowd started counting for them and they did not miss a single count. They performed as if the music had never gone off. Seeing them perform with that much confidence was absolutely amazing. They showed that they could handle anything and seeing that as a coach, I could not be more proud of those girls. They were ready for Vegas at that point and I knew they were going to be great.”


The Big Moment

When Sheetz received a text from JAMZ that night after their performance that the team had received zero deductions, she immediately relayed the news to London, Giovannoni-Choate, Baity and Wilson and the nerves really started jittering.

“We had a really good feeling that we’d placed in the top three at the very least,” Sheetz said. “But we were going crazy wondering.”

As the announcer named off the second place team, which happened to be the defending champion for the division, everyone held their collective breath, wildly hoping.

Then, that moment came when the announcer revealed the first place champs, saying, “I think there’s going to be a ‘Stampede’ in the house!” and everyone went wild.

London said of the experience, “It was amazing of course! I watched these girls pull off a flawless routine after being together for only three months, losing two cheerleaders, changing the dance several times and then having one of our cheer sisters hurt. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to come together as an awesome team and win Nationals.”

Giovannoni-Choate agreed, saying, “This one is for those girls who went out there and won the National Championship title. I helped guide them and gave them the essentials to win, but they were the ones who put on the show. They deserve all the celebration, not me. This is their moment.”


Looking Forward

Oakdale has a proud history of stellar athletes, from winning football state championships to strong water polo, soccer and baseball accolades. It seems only fitting that the town should produce champion cheer teams, too.

“The win is still very fresh but there’s already talk of next year,” Sheetz admitted with a proud smile. “It feels good to represent Oakdale’s caliber of athletes so well. We’d love to bring home back-to-back wins but right now, we’re just savoring the victory.”

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