The 'Kats are back

Northwest Colorado Wildkats and Kittens return to compete after summer off

Sam Smith believes with a little bit of help she can fly.

The Craig Middle School eighth grader only needs girls girls and a high ceiling to get the job done.

"When I started out, I was a little scared," Smith said. "But after a couple of times I realized how safe it is."

Smith is referred to as the flier and the girl who is often on the top of the stunts for the Northwest Colorado Wildkat cheerleading team. The Wildkats are currently preparing for two regional competitions in as many weeks.

After ordering the squad's first break in four years over the summer, coach Dawn Rader said she thought with a couple of new additions, such as Smith, her girls were ready to defend their regional championships.

"We'd been going solid for four years so after nationals last year I thought we needed to take the summer off," she said. "We have the same core of 'Kats back but with a new flyer in Sam everybody is totally excited to get started again."

The Wildkats, a team of fourth through ninth graders, and the Kittens, made up of cheerers in kindergarten through third grade, will make the trip to Englewood, Colo., this weekend to compete in the United Spirit Association regional. The USA title has been in the hands of the Wildkats for five consecutive years.

The next weekend, the 16 Wildkats and 10 Kittens will travel to Grand Junction for the National Cheerleaders Association regional competition, a title they've won the last two years.

"We're going in hoping to win both titles," Rader said. "Every year is a challenge to progress and this will show us if it has happened."

The Kittens will have to do it with many new faces.

"We lost a lot of Kittens to moves," Dawn said. "So they are a new group."

In order to qualify for the next level of competitions, the team will need to score above an 80 percent at the regional -- something the local groups are hoping for but won't be completely crushed if it doesn't happen.

"Bids to nationals are icing on the cake," Rader said. "We want that esteem but we aren't going to go to either nationals."

Instead the teams will travel to the NCA West Coast Classic this year in California for what they consider their national competitions.

"In California, the competition is so tough it's just like nationals," Rader said. "We learn a lot from those West Coast teams."

When all is said and done, Rader said her goal doesn't just involve trophies that sometimes tower over her girls.

"It is important that we help them get self respect," Rader said. "We want them to feel good about themselves."

In her first few months as a Wildkat, Smith has enjoyed herself.

"I've always wanted to cheer," she said. "It's been a lot of fun and everybody is great."

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com.

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