, Muskogee, OK

February 27, 2013

Three cheers for squad

— By Chesley Oxendine

Times Correspondent

Despite a hurried schedule and some initial uncertainty, the Fort Gibson Youth Cheer Squad secured not one but two victories at the recent Jamfest National Cheer and Dance Competition.

The 13 girls, ranging from second- to fourth-graders, won first place in their division and the competition’s “overall sportsmanship award,” head coach Kaniowah Hare said.

“With them being that young and that little, I’m extremely proud they accomplished what they did,” Hare said. “It’s a very big achievement.”

Hare said the sportsmanship award was a particularly prestigious accolade.

“We were even more proud for them to earn that than we were the division win,” she said. “They got that overall, among all the other squads at the competition, not just their division. It speaks volumes about their attitude toward the girls they were competing against.”

This was after a Jan. 26 win in another Jamfest competition in Tulsa, which qualified the girls for the Oklahoma City contest.

The victories came after putting together a routine in only “two or three days,” Hare said, and little time for rehearsal.

“It was stressful just because we weren’t 100 percent sure about putting together a competition squad,” she said. “We only had six weeks to practice and that included Christmas break.”

Jamfest is an “international event production company that hosts approximately seventy cheer and dance competitions across the United States, Europe, and Canada,” according to its website.

Jamfest has strict regulations, said head coach Cara-Dawn Martin.

“There were lots of challenges due to that,” Martin said. “To go and compete we had to read all the rules from Jamfest and make sure we were going to meet those.”

The rules dictated everything from a two-minute, 30-second routine time to the complexity of the stunts performed, she said.

“You had to be careful about the difficulty of your tumbling,” Martin said. “You had to keep it under a certain level.”

More than that, bringing together girls of separate ages also proved a challenge, she said.

“We had to work with 13 girls who ranged from second to fourth grade and making sure they can do all of the skills at the same level,” Martin said.

Hare said the practices — which occurred twice a week, then three times the week before competitions — also took up parents’ time. She said she was grateful for their help.

Despite all the obstacles, however, the routine came together for the girls — which proved to be Martin’s favorite part of the process.

“I love seeing it all come together,” she said. “You work on it piece by piece and put it together like a puzzle and seeing that work is the neatest thing about putting something together for a competition.”

For Hare, the best aspect of being a cheer coach remains the kids, and how much fun they have with cheering.

“It's a whole different experience for the little girls,” she said. “Seeing how much they enjoy it is very much worth it — the time and the hours that we put into it are worth it, that's for sure.”