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Our blood, sweat and tears were ripped from us

Ashley Vernon Photo The 2019-2020 Roswell High varsity cheer team.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

As the end of my third year coaching was comes to an end, I look back and I am still shocked that I have made it this far. When I began this journey it was completely unexpected. I don’t come from a cheerleading background. I played volleyball and basketball my entire life and I grew up with the mentality that cheer was not a sport.

When Roswell High School principal Mr. Ruben Bolanos came to me with the idea of coaching the cheer team, I wanted no part of it. I told Mr. Bolanos, no. Before he would accept my answer, he told me to think about it first. I went home and told my husband of the joke I thought Mr. Bolanos was trying to play on me and we both laughed at the thought of me possibly becoming a cheer coach of any kind.

Time went on and I had a few cheerleaders in my Culinary Arts class who were devastated at the thought of not having a cheer team. It was my first year teaching, and I had developed relationships with my students so I understood their disappointment and I felt for them.

One day, one of my freshmen said to me, “What are games going to be like without a cheer team?” For some reason, this got to me. I went home that day and called my best friend, Angel Meeks. She cheered for Roswell and was a stay-at-home mom. Angel has a competitive spirit, so I knew she was perfect for the job.

I called her and asked, if I got the job, if she would be willing to be my assistant and help teach me the ins and outs of cheer. She agreed and from there we developed our game plan to build this program to what it used to be. We both got the job and knew we had to build it back to that championship-caliber and bring those banners back to where they belonged. We were excited and ready for the challenges that were to come.

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Our first year we placed fourth at State after receiving 20 points in safety deductions. It was a matter of amateur mistakes that I made as a coach and where I lacked knowledge of cheer that cost us that Blue Trophy. Not knowing if I would continue this journey, I was ready to come back for our second year. As coaches, we felt that we could take this team all the way to the top.

Our 2018-2019 season, we received positive feedback from the community, and we had a great turnout at tryouts. We had athletes from previous years come back and we had a strong team of 30. We slowly trickled down to 25 by the time we made it to State.

This year was different, we moved up a class and would be competing against the bigger schools and some of the best squads. We competed at various competitions and took home many first-place trophies. Of course, we had injuries and obstacles that we overcame but this was our year. We had a strong team and a strong routine.

We killed day one and we were in third place. Day two came around and we saw our competitors Eldorado, Rio Rancho and La Cueva perform. We knew if we went out there and hit our routine like we knew how, that Blue Trophy was ours.

Unfortunately, it still wasn’t our time. We came up short and during our routine, we had a few falls that cost us. We also ended up with another 10-point safety deduction that hurt us and cost us third place. In the end, we came up short and didn’t do what we should have done.

To our surprise, both Coach Meeks and I knew our work wasn’t done yet. In just two short years we were able to bring Roswell Cheer back to being one of the top teams in the state. With both of us (Coach Meeks and me) having intense competitive nature in us, where we finished wasn’t good enough. We signed on to be number one.

As I look over our 2019-2020 season, I realized that this was by far our toughest. We endured so many obstacles when it came to injuries that I did not know if we were going to recover. As always, that fighting Coyote spirit kicked in in February and my team was ready to hit the blue mat on the Pit floor, and we were ready to compete for that Blue Trophy.

Our tryouts for our 2019-2020 season were held in mid-May. This was by far our best turnout that we have had in the past three years. We had 62 talented individuals try out for our squad in the hopes to put on that Red and White cheer uniform. We had 29 spots on our Varsity squad and only 24 of them knew they would make it to the blue mat. This year we had a young team that consisted of 13 freshmen, five sophomores, six juniors and six seniors.

Summer workouts began and we focused on strength and conditioning. We had to get our stunts ready for choreography. Every year Brandon Chavez from 365 Spirit comes and does a three-day choreography camp with us to focus on technique and skills. During this time we also learn our State routine for both Cheer with music and Game Day.

Brandon has been in the cheer business for over 20 years and has given Roswell Cheer many of the amazing championship routines over the years. This year would be no different. Brandon came and delivered one of the best, but most difficult routines we would see yet. He incorporated new stunts and jumps that no one has seen before, and he knew we were fit for the job.

Months begin to fly by, football, soccer and volleyball season came to an end. Soon comes basketball season, which surprisingly is much busier than fall sports. Our competition season slowly starts creeping in while we try to fit in as many practices as we can between both boys’ and girls’ basketball games.

This is around the time where injuries start happening and movement on where people are positioned in routines. December hit us pretty hard when our only male, Issac Dominguez, which is our strongest back-base and our most talented tumbler (was injured). This was almost detrimental to our team and our routine as he was a huge part in some of the most difficult parts of our routine.

As time went by we made do and we made some moves in hopes that Issac would be clear to compete at State. In the meantime, we had competitions coming up and we had to make it work. We went to Artesia and came home with our first first-place trophy in the 5A division. We had two more competitions, one in Roswell and one in Albuquerque. We did well in Roswell and took home another first-place trophy. At the Spirit Xpress competition at the end of February we competed well but only came home with third-place and fourth-place trophies. We had some work to do.

We still had one more competition before State and that was the Halftime Hoorah at The Pit during the State Basketball tournament. This competition was important because we get the feel of performing on that huge stage in front of hundreds of people. This was the perfect opportunity for my team to get all those pre-State jitters out.

We went and we performed our Game Day routine because three out of the last three times we performed it, it was flawless. For some reason, the cheer gods were not on our side and everything that could go wrong did. My team did not perform to their full potential and it was a huge blow to their self-esteem. Make no mistake we knew what we had to fix and we were going to fix it and be ready to kill it on day one of the State competition.

Little did we know our season would soon be put on hold. I got word from our athletic director that beginning Friday, March 13, all travel for sports and all practices would be canceled until further notice. With everything I was hearing, I knew that it could only get worse before it got better.

The New Mexico Activities Association released a statement saying they were planning to have the State Spirit competition in early May. My seniors would go on hoping their season would continue, as I continued to hope for them. I knew that it wouldn’t. Then we got word from the NMAA and the governor that school and all sports and activities would be canceled for the remainder of the year. This was devastating to my team and most of all my seniors. We never got the chance to go out and show what Roswell Cheer was made of. We weren’t able to redeem ourselves from last year.

In the cheer world, we all understand nothing is guaranteed, and something can happen and things change at the drop of a hat. But we never thought that something like this could happen. This is not something anyone could ever expect. The past 10 months of literal blood, sweat and tears were ripped from beneath us without any warning and there was nothing we could possibly do about it.

My heart goes out to my team. This year we went through so many ups and downs that there were times that I didn’t know if any of us would make it out alive. There were days that tested my patience and most of all my character at times. At the end of each day I had to remind myself that it was never about me, but about my team, and I kept pushing through for them. We made breakthroughs and we cried together and we did it all for each other.

For many, cheerleading isn’t just about cheering on the sidelines during football games. (Although, cheering on our championship football team every Friday night simply never gets old.) For many of these athletes, cheer is about the rush of adrenaline they get before entering the Pit floor at the state competition.

It is about proving to themselves that they have the strength and endurance to hit their stunt sequence perfectly. It’s about going out there and proving to their community and the hundreds of people in the stands that the work they have put in from May to March was more than worth it. It’s about the family and the relationships they have built with each other for the last 10 months. It is about those moments where they have pushed themselves beyond their limits to become the best versions of themselves they could possibly imagine being.

At one point, I thought cheerleading wasn’t a sport. I was right, it’s not. It is far more than any sport I have ever played. It is a family these kids have become. A part where they push themselves and their teammates to become champions every single day. They overcome their fears of being thrown in the air and trusting their bases to catch them every single time.

It is having the strength to toss and turn a human being in the air and know that their safety is in your hands and just praying you don’t get kicked in the face at the same time. It is about getting yelled at by your coach to throw a tumbling skill that you have never thrown before until you throw it, only to know that you were capable of doing it the entire time. Cheerleading is about trust and courage. I have learned so much from this team over the last three years, and it is that not just anyone can be a cheerleader. It is dangerous and it takes skill and guts to be a cheerleader.

Three years have gone by and I thought for sure this year would be my last. Again, to my surprise that competitive nature in me knows my work here is not yet done. As I go into this fourth year with my assistant coach by my side, I can only hope for another great year. This year we have our first group of seniors that will have been with us since the beginning of this journey. We are excited for the year to come and can only pray for it to be a better turnout than 2020 had in store.

To My Seniors

I thank you for trusting me to be your coach. I thank you for teaching what hard work and perseverance looks like. You all battled all the way until the end, even when I knew you didn’t have any more fight in you. My heart hurts for you knowing that you didn’t get that one last chance to bring home the Blue. Just know that I love you all and you all are set to take on the world and whatever it throws at you. I can’t wait to see where life takes you and all the success it brings you. Stay strong and always remember, Go Coyotes!

By Jordan Valverde
Special to RDR Sports

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