Tualatin Cheer All-Stars make the most of a bad situation
There's nothing easy about cheer.
And when Tualatin High School cheer coach, Krista Reynolds, and the remaining 2020 team chose to compete independently last summer as a result of COVID-19 restrictions wreaking havoc on the upcoming school year, few could have envisioned what was in store.
But nearly a year and a couple of pretty big trophies later, the Tualatin Cheer All-Stars have defied the odds and made believers out of themselves and others.
"When we started this we were just here to have fun, so we had no idea how we would place and we were just doing our thing," Reynolds said. "So when they announced that we had won NCA (National Cheerleaders Association), I had all-star gyms from all over saying, 'Who are you and where did you come from?'"
The team won the NCA 27-team L4.2 Small Senior Coed D2 division after a live virtual performance this past March.
Senior Brendyn Riddle was surprised by her team's success — and very excited, as were her teammates.
"This event is a big deal, so the fact that we transitioned from high school to an all-star team, knew nothing about it and won a national championship — we were all shocked," Riddle said. "I'm pretty sure all of us are still shocked to this day. It was an incredible accomplishment."
It wasn't as if the members of Tualatin's new "all-stars" were unfamiliar with success. The team, which consists of eight seniors, had won two Oregon state high school championships in the previous four years under the tutelage of Reynolds.
It was that success, combined with the tight coach-athlete connection, that led the team to part ways with the high school last July.
With many of the team having trained with Reynolds — who is also the director of Tualatin Junior Cheer — for a handful of years, the longtime coach felt she couldn't sit idle as her seniors had their final cheer season taken from them by the pandemic.
With that in mind, she approached the team about forming a competitive team outside of the school environment, and when they signed off on the idea, the coach resigned her official role with the the Timberwolves and began training for outside competitions like the NCA.
"I had a lot of emotional investment in these kids," Reynolds said. "I knew that if they sat out even one season they would have a very hard time making a college team, and some of my boys were dependent on that opportunity to go to college. So, I took a long look at what was ahead of us, then asked the team if they were ready and willing to join me, and they all agreed and I resigned the next day."
Ian Ditlevsen was one of those boys. He said he plans to attend and cheer for Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, next year, with the hopes of doing so at Texas Tech University beyond that.
He said the decision to follow Reynolds was an easy one, despite the obvious difficulty of jumping to an all-star level — something he admittedly knew little about.
"I knew it was a big jump even though it was a world that I really didn't understand," Ditlevsen said. "But I thought it was the best decision, because we could continue our team and continue competing, and that's all I really cared about."
Ditlevsen's introduction to cheer began just three years ago. He said he'd never really had any experience with team sports prior, but he took to the athleticism of cheer relatively quickly. Like most of the young men in the sport, he gravitated to the weight room, where they do the bulk of their work.
"During peak times, we work out five days a week," he said. "We've always had more weight training than practices, but it's also made us all kind of 'gym junkies.'"
And that hard work isn't reserved for the boys. Both Reynolds and Riddle spoke specifically to the work as something few outside of the sport of cheer recognize or understand. It takes strength, guts, athleticism and precision honed over countless hours and repetition. Without the ability to do that work indoors due to state COVID-19 protocols, the Tualatin All-Stars were forced to do so outside early on, at least — in Reynolds' front yard.
Riddle added that it was Reynolds and the rest of their coaching staff that deserves much of the credit for their success this past year, primarily for pushing the team to reach their athletic limits.
"Our coaches are incredible people," she said. "They push us to be our best, but they also connect with us both as athletes and individually as people. It really helps us trust our coaches more and I give so much credit to our coaches."
The team's success didn't end with the NCA championship either, for their win qualified them for the D2 Summit 2021 Finals this past May in Orlando, at which they placed third in the L4.2 Senior Coed Small Division.
And where do they go from here? Well, Reynolds is done — with the All-Stars, that is. She'll continue coaching her youth at Tualatin Junior Cheer, but she stated that this was more about this team and this group of seniors more so than an endeavor going forward.
"This was a one-and-done for me," Reynolds said. "For me, this was all about the current team and the kids on this team — making sure that COVID didn't take away any of their opportunities moving forward."
And that dedication wasn't lost on the team.
"It was an indescribable feeling and a blessing really to be able to have this last hurrah," Ditlevsen said. "To experience something so incredible with this team and especially the seniors I've known this entire time, it really was a great way to end things."
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