In 2001 the Northwest Colorado Wildkat Cheerleaders made their first trip to a national competition. Members who are still on the team laugh when they think about that first routine.
"We bobbed our heads a lot back then," eighth-grader Meagan Rader said. "We had to do that to keep the beat and I'm sure it looked pretty funny."
The Kats have come a long way.
"We have so many better stunts now," eighth grader Amanda Wilson said. "We were pretty basic in what we did back then."
Next week the 'Kats, a team of fourth- through ninth-graders, and the Kittens, made up of cheerers in kindergarten through third grade, will learn how far they've come when make the trip back to where it all started -- Anaheim, Calif. They will be competing in the National Cheerleaders Association's West Coast Classic.
"The girls are bruised and beat up from our tough practices," coach Dawn Rader said. "But you can tell by the beginning of practice their spirits are good."
The West Coast Classic isn't the NCA's national competition, which the teams have attended the last two years, but Rader doubts the competition is much different.
"The West Coast teams are probably some of the best in the country," she said. "This changes things up a little by not going to nationals, but it is just as competitive."
With spring break starting today after school the 23 'Kats and Kittens are on their own to get to California. Some are driving early in the week, some are flying out later. Either way they will all meet in Anaheim, Saturday, March 20 to prepare for the next day's competition.
"I always try to find a competition near spring break so the girls have the chance to make it a family thing," Rader said. "We try to keep the pressure low and just go to have fun."
If not pressure, there was still a sense of competition among
"We really want to get first," said Michelle Hammond, who competed as a Kitten the first time in California. "We're off-the-chart more advanced than the first time, but the competition is a lot tougher too."
The first time at the WCC the 'Kats finished 11th and the Kittens were fifth.
"I think they at least want to finish better than 11th," Rader said. "I think we have the ability if
Both squads have been working on improving their routines since the regional qualifiers were held in November.
The 'Kats were named the Grand Champions at the qualifier and carry that momentum into the WCC.
"We're a lot better prepared than we have been in the past for the national competition," Wilson said. "Probably 100 times better than the first time in California when we got out points for being little and cute."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org