Frosh. Abby Walton is held high by her stunt group, grabbing Soph. Anna Finnestad’s and Sr. Annie Nguyen’s hands as they are lifted one level higher by their own stunt groups, each of their outside legs boxed outwards, making a 90 degree angle. Those two feet are held tight by two girls, Sr. Piper Kramer and Sr. Hannah Lindstrom. Every face held high, every smile plastered wide, as the West Ottawa varsity cheer team hits their final pyramid of round three.
As the girls ran off the blue mat, smiling and waving, tears poked at their eyes, showing how proud they were of the round they just finished. The girls hugged each other and jumped around, celebrating the work that finally paid off after a round well done.
The West Ottawa Varsity cheer team had just finished their round three, a key and complex part of cheer. It makes up a little over a third of the total score. That means if a team’s round three is bad, their total score is not going to be very good.
With a good round three comes a lot of preparation. The official sideline season starts in late October or early November, but the team begins working on stunts and tumbling for the round before the actual season starts, during the sideline cheer season. “Prep for this sport starts in Summer with sideline, as that’s just practice for competitive,” Jr. Hannah Prys said.
During the sideline season, the coaches usually have a basic plan in their head for round three. They will experiment with the different stunts in mind during the sideline season to figure out which ones the team is best at. The team also goes to Champion Cheer Camp, where they learn new stunts and pyramids. It’s during this time that they advance the girls in their tumbling as well, all in preparation for the coming competitive season. They create words and stunt sequences to teach to the girls in the first few weeks of the competitive season.
Another component of how the round is created is the point value. The coaches create the round using highly valued stunts that the team can perform well. “We create stunt sequences based on the strengths of the girls as well as the difficulty in point value,” Coach Emily Veldkamp said.
There is also a rule book in competitive cheer for each round. For round three, the total amount of possible points must equal at least 800 points or higher, based on the number of girls in the round and the division that West Ottawa is in.
Although there must be at least 800 points possible, that does not mean that it is easy to attain. Most of the time, teams’ scores fall into the 600’s. That’s because the round is performed in front of a panel of judges with different preferences and biases. Round three is judged on vocals, general impression, team coordination, choreography, and execution. Teams can get points taken off if they do not hit a stunt strong and steady, or if they get a penalty.
The team begins working on the sequence of round three as soon as tryouts are done with, so that they can begin to learn and perfect it before the coming competitions. They have to have all of round three learned, on top of two other rounds, in two weeks. In order to learn the words to the round, the team goes through the round vitally slowly. They go word by word, stunt by stunt. With practices every week night and an occasional weekend, they work on polishing every motion of every round. The team goes through each chunk of round three at least six to eight times through, and runs through the round at least twice in each practice.
Once they have the round memorized, they drill it so that every motion is impeccable. Every high V has got to have locked arms, squeezed tight as a statue. Every girl must snap each motion in the exact same way, at the exact same time. That is one thing that’s necessary to get a good score.
The entire process of creating round three is incredibly vital, but all boils down to the day of the competition. The girls have to be 100% focused, the round has to be valuable. Teams win by tenths of points, so everyone has to be completely in the zone from the second they walk in front of the judges, until the last foot leaves that blue mat.
Hearts pounding, hands gripping, girls hoping. The West Ottawa varsity cheer team sat close, leg touching leg, in the middle of the big, blue mat. Their heads bowed, hands woven tightly, connecting all of them in a circle of anticipation. Each girl holds their breath as they listen for the announcement of the top three teams’ final scores to be announced, to see if their hard work finally paid off.