By KIM VAN METER
Special To The Leader
Talent, grit, and heart win championships — and rings — as evidenced by the shiny new prize gracing the fingers of the Oakdale High School Competition cheer team members after dominating at the JAMZ state championships on Saturday.
Two Oakdale teams, Pom and Show Cheer, traveled to Bakersfield, Feb. 8, to put it all on the mat against teams from around the state in a bid to be the best and in spite of a late start and a tight practice schedule, delivered in a big way.
Giovannoni Choate said, “We didn’t start the teams until October. Most schools that compete start training and choreography during summer. We had a lot to do in a short amount of time.”
The Oakdale High School Pom squad, comprised of two senior and four junior cheerleaders with traditional dance experience, hit the stage with bright smiles and a confidence that couldn’t be matched as they wowed the crowd with their beautiful timing, precision, and skill.
“The emotion on the girls' faces when they heard they’d won was incredible,” Choate shared. “My heart was so ecstatic for those girls. I hope they now see what we always could see. I am often mesmerized with the talent that they hold. I hope they can now see it too.”
The Show Cheer squad, comprised of a mix of junior varsity and freshman cheerleaders, owned the mat with a palpable energy that stunned the crowd, sweeping not only their division but winning the level grand championship as well.
Competition coaches Katey Giovannoni Choate and Sherry Kupper knew their athletes had what it took to go all the way and they weren’t wrong.
Kupper said, “I am so honored by these girls. Their success means so much to me. We knew they could do it. We guided them but they did it and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
For Giovannoni Choate, a former Mustang cheerleader, and an accomplished choreographer with more than 300 first place and national titles from choreography and coaching, Oakdale remains her true north, making this win, all the sweeter.
“I have been in the cheer and dance industry since I was 18,” Giovannoni Choate shared. “I traveled with a competition company the moment I turned 18. I’ve made it a career as I am the YCADA (Youth Cheer And Dance Alliance) Senior Rules Director for the globe. But the job I love the most is working with Oakdale. It’s my hometown and I am so proud to be a part of this program.”
The coaches are quick to point to the girls for their success, so happy to see their athletes take home the accolades they deserve after so many hours of hard work, dedication, tears, and sore muscles. Often the competition squads followed a hard day of regular cheer practice with more hours on the mat to perfect their competition routines. The competition squads had to simultaneously learn double routines while pushing through exhaustion, and keeping their grades up.
And their hard work paid off in a big way.
It’s not every year that OHS Cheer offers a competition squad. It takes a different level of skill, discipline, and talent to compete against the teams assembling their best for state and national titles.
But after a three-year break, when the new squads came together, all of the coaches knew they had something special and it was time to go for the gold.
As OHS’s choreographer, Giovannoni Choate saw the wealth of talent on display at cheer try-outs last March, admitting, “I’ve been working with many of these kids as their choreographer since they were 10 years old. I knew they were ready to step into the high school world of competitive cheer and dance. They showed me they were ready to compete. They had no idea the thought was even in my head. Their level of technique and discipline showed me that they were ready for a competition team. The high school program, coached by Heather Todd Vierra, Sherry Kupper, Cassie England, and Azella Dimburg has prepared these girls to be very successful in the competitive cheer and dance industry.”
One of the biggest contributing factors to the teams’ success was the girls’ love and respect for one another, Kupper added.
“The girls are incredible,” Kupper said, her voice breaking with emotion. “I don’t even know how to describe how the girls were with each other. There was a genuine sense of community. They truly love and care for each other. When you put that together with all that talent … it’s simply magic.”
Giovannoni Choate agreed, adding, “I always say it takes a village to raise a champion. It starts with the right athletes, who have an amazing support system at home, the perfect choreography, coaches who continue to push, and a bond between the team that no one can break. When it all comes together, and it has, then success forms.”
While the Pom squad has ended their run on an incredibly high note, the Show Cheer squad is hoping to bring home another win when they hit the mat in Las Vegas for the JAMZ National competition in two weeks.
Coaches Kupper and Giovannoni Choate say bring it on.
“These girls ready,” Giovannoni Choate said. “They are professional. They are the dream team. Oakdale, they are representing you well!”