Stuck on the Ground – Cheer 2020


Bridget Epstein and Hannah Taylor

Just 44 minutes before the SMSD School Board voted on fall sports, new head Coach Mkilar Otte Group Me’d the SM East Cheer squad.

“If we’re allowed tonight, can you all make it by 6 or 6:30?”

The girls waited in anticipation to get the confirmation.

At 5:54, it was official. Cheer was a go. Those who could go to the last minute practice pulled into the parking lot. It was the first time in months they had stepped foot into the stage gym.

But the season would be filled with continuous change. Would they be inside? Can they stunt? Will there be a student section at football games? Was there still a Competition Team? Coach Otte had messages and emails pouring in from cheerleaders and their concerned parents before the mats had been rolled out at their first practice.

“I was nervous that people on the team weren’t going to wear their masks when we needed to,” junior Maggie Merckens said. “And that they wouldn’t follow the rules set in place to protect us.”

As they stepped into the first official practice of the season, there were only two mats to roll out and only half the fluorescent lights on. The smell of waxed floors and velcro strips all felt so familiar. As the two hours came to a close, the exciting news of a Saturday game the following week left the boys and girls with something to prepare for.

Cheer had been off and on all summer because of COVID-19. Everyone knew that highschool life would be far from normal, but this was something to hold onto. The game signified the official start of the season.

Otte wanted to look perfect for the team’s debut. He made a schedule of three-hour practices Monday through Friday to make it possible. Stunt groups were assigned, and it was time to put in the work. The practices were grueling, as the cheerleaders hadn’t practiced or perfected any stunts, jumps, or chants since the spring basketball season.

Never before had the team been so intense about cleaning their game day cheers. Never before had they practiced 15 hours a week or gotten makeup tutorials from former college cheerleaders. Everything was changing, and it was for the better.

Sept. 19 had finally arrived. The girls woke up early Saturday morning to make the drive to College Boulevard Athletic Center. As they stretched on the sidelines and warmed up their stunts in preparation for the game, Athletic Director Debby Katzfey approached Coach Otte.

Not even twenty minutes after arrival, they were informed that stunting was no longer allowed. Their five-hour practice from two days before seemed to have been for nothing. The girls stood silent as they hung their heads in disappointment.

“It was a bummer that we couldn’t stunt,” senior co-captain Grace Krieg said. “But we looked really good compared to last year. We are making the best out of it, and hopefully, we can stunt soon”

Their preparation, even if they didn’t have the chance to perform fully, did not go unnoticed. Football player’s parents, cheer parents and administration gushed to Coach Otte about how good they looked.

Despite the blow, the girls continued to warm up as if nothing had gone wrong, practicing their new chants and warming up tumbling.

One minute before kickoff, the girls put smiles on their faces and gathered together. It was still the first game after all, and time for the traditional “We Ready” circle.