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Active, athletic St. Helens High student receives high honor at elite summer camp

COURTESY PHOTO: ERIC STEARNS - All-American cheerleader Savannah Hoffmann (center) of St. Helens High shares a moment with Lions coaches Eric Stearns (right) and Liz Nehl.Three cheers are in order for Savannah Hoffmann.

The St. Helens High senior-to-be recently added to her already substantial repertoire and list of accomplishments as an athlete and performer.

She not only has nailed down a key role on the upcoming school year's cheerleading team, but she also has gained All-American recognition.

Hoffmann earned the latter, special accolade at a cheer camp at the United States Basketball Academy in Blue River from July 20-24.

And she did that despite suffering an injury early in the camp, which was run by Oregon Dream Teams, a gymnastics and cheerleading studio in Beaverton.

• • •

The injury to her right ankle and Achilles tendon might have derailed other competitors, but not Hoffmann, who was a state placer in track and field last spring (sixth in the Class 5A high jump) and has participated in choir and soccer for the Lions.

The first day at the July cheerleading camp, "I was the flyer at the top in stunts, so I would drop a lot and fall," she said. "I hurt my Achilles from landing on my feet so much, and then later in the day there was a competition where you land with both feet on the ground, and I rolled my Achilles on the way down and sprained my ankle."

She wrapped her ankle with tape, though, and kept working hard.

"The coaches there were top-notch, and I wanted to learn as much as I could from them," she said. "I hobbled around and fought through the pain and was able to take home a lot."

The judges/coaches, who came from around the country, already had noticed her ability, and then couldn't help but notice how she stayed so involved and positive.

"It's who I am as a person," she said. "My kindheartedness, especially with helping out my team and cheering everybody on."

"Savannah didn't stop rallying for her teammates and encouraging them to be their best," said Eric Stearns, new head coach for St. Helens cheer. "And then the last day she taped up as much as she could and went out and did the final audition for All-American.

"It was pretty clear she was ready for that honor."

Only 12 out of 175 attendees received the All-American tag, and Stearns said it was extremely impressive how well Hoffmann was able to do her tumbles and jumps, given that she had little opportunity to work on them and had to perform while hurt.

For being named an All-American, she will get a ring, to be shipped to the school.

And she has a lot more to look forward to, starting in September. Hoffmann has been voted a co-captain for next year's St. Helens cheer squad, which competes in the fall and winter season.

"A co-captain has to lead by example, and she can do that with her athletic ability but also as a teacher, encourager and partner," Stearns said. "We have a lot of underclassmen on the team, and they really look up to her."

• • •

COURTESY PHOTO: SAVANNAH HOFFMANN - At a cheerleading camp in July at Blue River, St. Helens co-captain Savannah Hoffmann performs a move that helped her earn All-American honors.Hoffmann's first love, in terms of exercise, movement and performance, was dance.

"I started dancing pretty much when I could walk," she recalled.

She danced for 12 years at OPAS (Oregon Performing Arts Studio) in St. Helens.

"I did pretty much everything — lyrical, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, ballet, tap," she said.

Unfortunately, "I had to stop in high school because I couldn't afford it anymore."

But "dancing and music always have been a part of who I am," and with that in mind, she decided to try something new and that was offered at the high school — signing up for choir as a freshman.

Immediately, "I loved it," she said. "It was the music side of it for me. When I stopped dancing, it had changed my entire life, because dancing was about all I'd ever do. I felt disconnected from music until I joined choir."

Stearns, who also is choir director at St. Helens High, remembers Hoffmann first showing up for beginning chorus, with no experience but eager to learn and get on a fast track.

"Every day, between the end of school and sports practice, she spent 45 minutes in the music room," he said. "She asked me for a keyboard chart so she could at least decipher what keys on the piano are where, and she learned to play the music for her (choir) part. She did this for at least six months that year."

Hoffmann said she enjoys the competitive aspect of school choir as well as simply being around the music.

"When I would dance, I would go to competitions all the time," she said, "and being on stage with a choir reminds me of that. It's very exhilarating, just being part of a group.

"And I feel like choir is the one class in the entire school that brings everybody together — people from different backgrounds and beliefs. We're all working together."

• • •

Hoffmann didn't turn out for cheerleading until she was a junior, and she did that for basically the same reason she got into choir.

"Cheer brings me closer to my roots of music and dancing," she said.

Friends also had a lot to do with getting her to try cheerleading. They knew she had the talent for it.

"At school assemblies, I choreographed dances for my class, and they told me I was pretty good and should try out for the cheer squad," she said. "So I came to the auditions toward the end of the school year."

The cheer team is seeing a dramatic rise in numbers under Stearns and assistant coach Liz Nehl.

"We had 11 kids last year, and we have 32 on board for this year," said Stearns, who took over as cheer coach near the end of April. "I did a massive recruiting blitz."

Hoffmann said the energy around the program is palpable.

"I feel like this year is going to be a lot of fun," Hoffmann said. "I'm really excited for my senior year. It's going to be amazing for the cheer squad, with all the stunts and new tricks we're learning. I feel like the school's going to love it."

• • •

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - Savannah Hoffmann of St. Helens High placed in district this year as a junior in the high jump, long jump and triple jump, then went on to take sixth at the state meet in the high jump.Hoffmann said she hasn't decided whether to play soccer again this year and has yet to decide if she wants to try to make an impact on the Lions' varsity team.

She has played mostly as a defender, "but if they need me on the field, I'm happy to play anything."

The concern about committing to a full season of prep soccer has more to do with her classroom work.

"I'm taking a lot of Advanced Placement classes," she said, noting the time involved in doing well academically.

"I mostly like chemistry, and I'm taking a lot of AP chemistry and biology, and thinking of becoming a pharmacist or chemical engineer," she said.

Or, she quickly added when asked about the future: "I might follow my dreams and do something with dance and music."

She'll have one more season of track and field, too, before she walks with her fellow seniors and receives her diploma. And she says she wants to begin focusing on preparations for track and field during the winter, so she can hit the ground running in the spring.

"I started track my eighth-grade year and have done it ever since, and I want to finish strong and possibly even continue track in college," she said.

• • •

Born in Portland, she has grown up entirely in St. Helens. She lives with her mother, younger sister Saybra (who will be a sophomore at St. Helens High this year) and brother Elijah (who is entering first grade). Saybra also has been into dancing, but is likely to branch out into sports as a Lion, according to Savannah.

For college, "I want to stay in the U.S.," Hoffmann said, "but I haven't figured out whether that will be far from home or stay close to home. Maybe somewhere in the middle would be nice."

Wherever she winds up after leaving St. Helens High, it might be smart to bet on her returning to her dancing roots.

"I realy want to get back into it in college," she said. "Going from dancing 12 years to playing soccer and doing track, it was really hard to make the adjustment from being graceful to being tough."

The years of dance training "have really served her well" for cheer and stunts, Stearns said.

And he said nothing Hoffmann does after high school would surprise him.

"A great kid. An awesome all-around human being," he said. "She tries harder than anybody. This kid has more grit and determination than many of the students I've had in years. She stands head and shoulders above so many because of her work ethic."

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