After a successful 2017 season that included a regional championship and a third-place showing at state, the Hotchkiss High School spirit team is back.
Spirit is one of nine fall sports sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association. This year's 13 cheerleaders and five dancers voluntarily trained throughout the summer in preparation for the season. Of the 18 team members, 13 are returning athletes, said head coach Liz Heidrick.
The team practices daily to prepare for competition in the Class 2A Cheer and Pom divisions. Many of the routines are choreographed by the athletes. They also train with the Colorado Mesa University cheerleaders and dance team, and with stunt coach Scott Pruess. He grew up in a dance studio and his mother is a CHSAA dance division judge.
They're very dedicated, said Heidrick. Most team members compete in another sport or activity or play in the school band. Everyone who tries out makes the team. "If you've got effort and desire, then you're on the squad."
This is Heidrick's 17th year of coaching spirit. Team members Jade Hart and Mia Cowan are second-generation athletes whose mothers were cheerleaders.
The spirit program, which encompasses both cheer and dance, "is meant to be an uplifting experience to support school spirit and camaraderie amongst the students and student-athletes," said Heidrick. They greet competing cheerleaders and other athletes and make visitors feel welcome and respected.
More than cheerleaders and dancers, "We're here to encourage sportsmanship," said Heidrick. They cheer at all home football games and travel when the team has a game at Paonia. After state competition they cheer and perform at home basketball games.
On Sept. 8 the team competes at the 21st Spirit Fest championships, an annual statewide competition held at Elitch Gardens in Denver. Last year they placed second at the Spirit Fest, a non-CHSAA competition mostly attended by larger schools. Since few Western Slope schools hold competitions, the event helps the team to prepare for regional and state competition. "It's held early in the season, before we're ready, but it's a great opportunity for them to get used to a large crowd and the stress of competition," said Heidrick.
This season the student body will cheer with the team from bleachers located at the north end of the football field. It's a new concept, said Heidrick. Their motto: "One school. One team. One spirit."