From a tiny room in the “dungeon” of Evergreen High School, a hip-hop mix that is vaguely familiar, yet not an entire song, enticing listeners to “Go stupid,” and “Get crazy,” emanates out the door seeping into the hallway.
“Five … six … seven … eight! One, and two, three and four … Good! I like it. Let’s clean it up and make it pop,” choreographer Sarah “Shack” Schachterle says as the music cuts.
She shouts the count and the song starts over. It’s disjointed and complicated, but it’s what dancers do.
For 19 years, Schachterle and Evergreen head coach Debbie Cooper have called out counts for routine after routine, expecting that each time the sequence will tighten up and the end result will be worthy of the school’s reputation as a go-hard, swagger-laden national champs.
Evergreen has a legacy when it comes to its poms team. It wins. It wins often and when the Lady Cougars do they make it seem like there was no other option but to win.
So far the legacy has maintained itself. The new girls who tryout for the team know that there are no givens. A spot on the team is an opportunity, not a right. But being part of a legacy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can give an inherent sense of confidence, but on the other hand it can make for high-pressure stakes.
“This is a team that works hard,” Cooper said. “We have girls who have never danced before joining the team, (and) we have girls who have danced their whole life. But (with) this year’s team you can’t tell the difference.”
The Lady Cougars poms team, which will compete Nov. 17 at a regional competition at the Denver Convention Center and at state Dec. 7-8 at the Denver Coliseum, is smaller in numbers this year than it has been in the past after graduating 10 seniors last year. Now, with only 10 girls total, the team has to find its balance while maintaining its confidence.
Seventeen-year-old Madi Shipley is this year’s lone senior and captain. She has endured the highs and lows that come with being part of a legacy team the past four years and knows the power of being on a team and the responsibility of being a captain.
“I’m not big on yelling at the girls,” said Shipley, who does not hound her teammates, but rather sets the bar high by leading by example.
Her example is one that has helped boost the work ethic of freshman Ashton Toler. Toler, like some of her teammates, had not danced before joining the team. But Toler had one set of skills that catapulted her beyond JV onto varsity. She is a bona-fide contortionist.
Toler has been a member of the Snowflake Circus since she was 12, which has given her strong, petite frame a controlled sense of motion and balance, perfect for moves like the ones that Evergreen incorporates into its national competition routines.
This year’s routine has a complicated lift where the girls have to transition from a hands-on-the-ground, body-weight-balanced-on-their-elbows move called “baby,” into a headstand, then flip into a standing position. Anyone lacking core strength cannot perform this move, but Toler, not surprisingly, got it on the first try.
“We have some really amazing girls on the team this year,” said Shipley.
Cooper and Schachterle couldn’t agree more.
“When the team is small like this there is no place to hide,” Cooper said. “Everyone has to be good, and these girls are getting there.”