Junior Bulldog cheerleaders show a different kind of holiday cheer at the Wilsonville Holiday Showcase

by: PHIL HAWKINS - The Junior Bulldogs cheer team works on their routine during Friday's dress rehearsal at Valor Middle School. At left is cheer coach Erica Bailey, one of five coaches who have volunteered to help instruct the team. Bailey is a Woodburn High School graduate and current student at Portland State University.Months of planning, practice, sweat, exhaustion and – most importantly fun – culminated for 27 middle school girls from Woodburn who competed in the Wilsonville Wildcat Cheer Challenge Saturday.

The annual high school cheer competition featured teams from throughout the upper Willamette Valley, as well as a handful of junior cheer teams that were invited to showcase their skill and dedicated to the sport.

The Junior Bulldog Cheer team, which formed in May and has been practicing since August, got the chance to display their skills to a live audience Saturday morning in a choreographed two-minute routine filled with a variety of stunts, jumps, by: PHIL HAWKINS - Yesenia Lopez (front) and Isabel Vergara hold a pose during practice for the Junior Bulldogs' competitive cheer team.dances and cheers.

“The girls represented Woodburn very well and showed great sportsmanship,” said assistant coach Alisha Lopez. “For many of them, this is the first experience being on a team sport, and it has been amazing watching them blossom in their self-confidence.”

The cheer team formed thanks to grants from Woodburn Together, Woodburn Proud, After School Club and private fundraising, as well as the dedicated instruction from assistant coaches Lopez, Jessica Steele, Lynne Koenig and head coach Erica Bailey. Most of the girls are middle school age, though a few elementary school girls also compete with the team.

Bailey, a former Woodburn High School student and a current student at Portland State University, has been directing the Junior Bulldogs over the fall and winter season and has been impressed with the energy and enthusiasm she has seen from her athletes.

“These girls, – they go home and they practice, then they come here with a good game face and attitude. None of them are saying ‘I want to give up. I’m bored. I’m tired,’” said Bailey. “It takes a lot of work. We’ve had six practices just focused on this (routine), which is really impressive. Usually competitive teams focus the whole year on a routine like this.”

Unlike the more common sideline cheerleading often seen during timeouts of football and basketball games, competitive cheer competitions feature elaborately choreographed routines set to high-energy music. Twenty-seven girls must be able to work in unison while transitioning from jumps, tumbling, dancing, cheering and stunts in just a few seconds.

“Sideline cheer, which is football and basketball cheer for sports, is a whole different type of cheer than competitive cheer,” said Bailey. “Sideline cheer helps in persona and getting the crowd, sharpness within the cheer, but they’re two totally different worlds.”

At the middle school level, much of the more difficult tumbling and stunts are removed for safety and skill reasons, but the girls still need to maintain a sky-high energy level as they quickly move to each part of the routine over the course of 120 seconds.

“That’s the hardest thing for these girls is getting them in that mentality of go, go, go,” said Bailey. “They have to always be a step ahead, which is hard for them, but they’re doing very well, so I’m pretty proud.”

The Junior Bulldogs were originally going to attend the competition as spectators as a chance to see how competitive cheer is showcased and judged at the high school level, said Koenig.

But when the Wilsonville cheer coach asked if the Bulldogs wanted to compete, the team jumped at the chance.

“Now we know how much work actually goes into it,” said Bailey.

The competition was a great success, said Lopez, both in terms of how the team executed while performing and how the girls represented Woodburn cheer to the more experienced teams from around the region.

“Teams from surrounding areas were very excited to meet us and see Woodburn having a junior rec team. Many people complimented our girls for the professional way they presented themselves and their level of preparedness they had for being such a new team,” said Lopez. “They are truly trailblazers, and I am so incredibly proud of these young athletes.”

As the girls wind down the year, the coaching staff is hoping to get the team involved in more competitions in 2014. In a typical competitive cheer season, a team will work on the same routine repeatedly over the course of 12 months and compete about four times, said Bailey.

For the Bulldogs’ middle school team, Bailey hopes to get two or three competitions under her belt next year. While it may seem that four competitions at two minutes a routine is small compared to the time commitment necessary, Bailey said it is worth it.

“That two minutes – I remember in high school – it was worth everything,” she said. “Doing the last second of the routine and knowing you just hit it, you were so excited. I don’t know how to explain it.”

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