By Billy Lopez
The San Dimas High School cheer team won back-to-back National Championships in 2019 and 2020, but COVID-19 might hinder any chances at a three-peat this upcoming season.
Days after winning their second straight National Championship in early 2020, the cheer team was back in the gym in the early mornings to get ready for the 2021 season.
Unfortunately, the early March stay-at-home orders stopped all practices at San Dimas High School. At the time, no one was sure how long the shutdown would last. Some said days, others weeks. Few said months.
As it turned out, from March through October of 2020, the cheer team was unable to hold practices in person. However, they did not waste the time they had.
Instead, they used it to hold practices online via Zoom. During these Zoom calls they focused on conditioning and a few routines as best as they could.
Head Coach Keyauna Thomas said these practices were astronomically different on Zoom.
“It is very difficult to critique someone online when you can’t really see them in person,” Thomas said.
Practicing and critiquing became a bit easier for the cheer team when they were able to practice in pods starting Nov. 1, 2020. In these pods they were able to tumble, condition and strength train but still were not able to be in contact with one another, which made stunting nearly impossible.
Tumbling, which an individual can do alone, is when an athlete performs gymnastics such as flips, twists and jumps. Stunting involves contact among team members as one athlete known as the “flyer” is tossed in the air or supported to build a pyramid-like formation.
At the moment, CIF plans to hold Regionals in March of 2021 and then Nationals shortly after, but the likelihood of a season at all is very low due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
Even if teams were allowed to begin contact practices in late January, as CIF anticipates, Thomas said she is unsure if three months is enough time to be ready to compete safely.
“We have not stunted with our team this year, and so we really don’t know what to expect,” said Rylie Coleman, San Dimas High School senior, in regards to safety and chemistry.
In normal circumstances, the cheer team would hold tryouts in May to pick their team for the upcoming season. They would then participate in a summer camp competition while practicing nearly all summer long, six days a week.
Once the school year starts, they would be back in the gym practicing five to six days a week in preparation for Regionals in January and Nationals in February.
Thomas said she feels for her team, especially her seniors who might miss out on their final season.
“This is not a ‘shake your pom pom every Friday night’ type of program. To give and give and give the past three years and lose out on the accolades and experiences for seniors is disheartening and discouraging,” Thomas said.
“Now that last year might have been my last time competing on a San Dimas mat, I didn’t get to take it all in. I never got to experience it as a last time,” Coleman said.
“It’s been really hard, it makes me tear up. I looked forward to being a cheer captain, and it feels like it’s all been taken away from us. You can’t social distance in cheerleading mentally and physically. You want to connect with your teammates on both levels,” said San Dimas senior Alexis Carrion.
Carrion gave a message to future cheer teams at San Dimas.
“I wish good luck to all the teams that get to experience what I didn’t get to experience. Don’t ruin it for yourself because you have to live everyday like it’s your last, and don’t take anything for granted. I know I’ve made mistakes in the past with cheer, and now that it’s all gone, it sucks. For future teams: be on your grind and work hard.”
According to the California Department of Public Health, inter-team competitions may not occur before Jan. 25, and that date may be reevaluated depending upon the situation at that time.