NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Just one week before cheerleading try-outs were schedule at North Platte High School, the school closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, instead of postponing try-outs until later in the year, the school pushed them back just a few weeks, and moved them online.
North Platte cheerleaders perform at a Bulldog basketball game during the winter season. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)
Jenna Campbell, the North Platte varsity cheer coach, has teamed up with the company Varsity and the Universal Cheerleaders Association to be able to hold try-outs. Varsity provided Campbell with videos of routines for the girls to learn, and UCA is providing virtual judges to grade the performance of the try-outs.
The routines are new to all the girls trying out, so no girl is at an automatic advantage. They will record themselves performing the routines, send the video to Campbell, and Campbell will send the videos to the judges for grading.
"I think the whole thing was kind of stressful to start out with, just because it's so different than what everybody else is doing, this is nothing like we've ever done before," said North Platte sophomore Katelyn Bowers. "So, it was kind of confusing to start with, but it also comes with a little bit of reassurance, knowing that everybody is in the same boat."
However, like with any new experience, the virtual try-outs have not come with out some difficulties.
“A challenge that we're noticing is not being able to work with the girls one-on-one in person. We're doing a lot of video chats, and answering questions on virtual meetings, so that's been kind of a challenge,” Campbell said.
But with that, upperclassmen, who have more experience, have stepped up to help out.
Graduating senior Aleecia Pace is encouraging the girls stay positive during this experience.
"I just try to give them confidence as in they have an advantage with this being virtual, rather than being actually in front of the judge panel, because they don't have to worry about their nerves being crazy or anything. They can take their video a few times, do a couple takes, and they're by themselves,” Pace said.
A few of the girls see being able to do record themselves, and try multiple times, as a positive. One negative, is learning how to learn the routines by just watching the videos.
“With this you're kind of just all on your own, and it comes down to you just practicing on your own, and having one video to look at and hope that you're doing it the best,” said junior Haeley Folk.
“I am one of the people who can learn things off of a video, but I have a lot of friends who are trying to learn it, and I really confused about it,” said sophomore Kendal Roberson.
However, the girls are helping each other out, and social media allows them to share tips with each other on how to improve.
"I've had a lot of girls Facebook messaging me, Instagram DMing me, videos of them doing it. It's really hard, and I do feel really bad for those girls that have never done it before, because it's not like a sport where you have years of practice, cheer is kind of different,” Pace said.
The upperclassmen, who have the previous experience of being on the cheer team, are helping the girls who have less experience improve their routines.
"I've had a few girls who FaceTime me and showed me their dances, and I've had a few girls who just sent me videos, and I'll send them ideas back on how to improve how it looks. We’re all in this together, to make it as easy as we possibly can,” Folk said.
“We have a Snapchat group chat set up of all of the girls who are trying out and so you can ask questions on that, and a lot of the older girls who are trying out again are really helpful. I've had a couple of girls FaceTime me to help them learn the stuff and like give them tips on everything,” Roberson said.
The deadline to submit try-out videos is Wednesday at noon, Campbell will then send the videos to the judges, who will send scores back within a few hours, and she hopes to have the team together by sometime Thursday. There are about 40 girls trying out for 20 open slots, with eight girls returning.
Typically, the cheer team practices together once the team is set, through the beginning of the summer, but that might not be an option this year. So, Campbell will have to rely on her returners, and the internet, to make sure the team knows the routines before the fall.
"I'm thinking my seniors are going to have to record a video of themselves of the routines we need to learn, and then sending that to the girls virtually. They're going to have to learn it on their own,” Campbell said.
Bowers sees this as an opportunity for the girls to take responsibility in their own improvements.
“You know, a lot of people think about the cheerleaders, and most people think we just stand on sidelines and we wave our pompoms, but there's so much more than that. All of the 6 a.m. practices almost every day, all of that is super important to us. So, I think that it will better us in the end, to do everything at home, and that will show an extra level of responsibility that we wouldn't normally get to showcase,” Bowers said.
Folk is grateful they even have the opportunity to have online try-outs, since other spring athletes will not get the chance to compete this spring.
"I think we're lucky that we can still have our try-out, and be able to participate with our cheer team. Some teams can’t, like soccer, track. We're lucky that we can still do something,” Folk said.