Oregon cheer competitions go virtual

Iris Breckenridge, Managing Editor, Columnist

With COVID-19 numbers constantly fluctuating and on the rise, the likelihood of having sports seasons has been questionable. Up until recently this has been true for cheer competitions and as of Jan. 4, following the OSAA guidelines and approval, Oregon Cheerleading Coaches Association (OCCA) created a plan to have completely virtual competitions this year. However, all schools are subject to specific district policies regarding competitions. 

Competition is scheduled to begin on March 13 with a new competition every Saturday until May 8. Teams are not required to virtually attend each competition, but will have the opportunity to. the coach and the athletes will solely determine the number of competitions a team participates in. Competitions will proceed by recording teams’ routines and submitting them via videos. Teams are not allowed to upload the same video for multiple competitions. Each week, teams must submit a new video. To ensure this, this OCCA has a new method to ensure the integrity of the competitions. For each competition there will be a code word that must be said or written down during the video. Competing teams are required to submit their video by the given deadline to be eligible for the competition. If the deadline is not met the team will be disqualified. Judging will take place on Saturdays and the scores and placings should be out by Sunday, if not earlier. Normally, there is a video of the routines taken for judges to check that the requirements are met and review the routines as needed. For these purposes judges are allowed to rewatch videos. Then the winners for each division will be announced and plaques and/or trophies will be sent to the winning teams’ school or coach.

Normally there would be crowds of people to perform in front of, including parents, friends and other cheer teams. “They are loud!” head cheer coach Danica Buttkus said. “When cheer teams compete, there is actually a scoring on crowd engagement and getting the crowd to yell with you.” Not having spectators or crowd interaction will be extremely different for teams everywhere, but everyone is in the same boat.  

Luckily nothing has changed too drastically and teams still have routines to choreograph and perfect. The work put in will be similar but routines will exclude stunting while jumps, tumbling and choreography have larger roles and higher importance. 

The Lake Oswego Cheer Team welcomes this experience and is grateful for the ability to have some kind of competition at all this year. Buttkus is thrilled about this opportunity, even if it is only virtual. “I think it will be a lot of fun and a great opportunity for the cheer team to have something to look forward to after a tough year with COVID and a lot of uncertainties,” she said. “I am looking forward to watching them grow…They deserve to compete. Even if that means doing it virtually.”

Buttkus said the team is going to plan the best they can and try to be patient and flexible like the rest of the world has learned to be. They will continue to practice in person as long as it is safe and “will continue to follow the guidelines set in place.” Buttkus discussed their practice plans saying, “We will practice a few days a week and record our routines to submit to the judges each week.”

Virtual interaction can be extremely exhausting and unmotivating, but Buttkus actually feels like this will increase motivation on the team. She said, “Even without competition, attendance has been really strong this year.” Part of it, she believes, has to do with all the time spent online during school and how, because of that, cheer has been a positive social outlet for a lot of the team members. “It’s been a joy to see them come together and spend time as teammates and build friendships. But competitions will add even more motivation and drive for this team. They are a competitive squad.”

Even with more motivation, this new virtual experience doesn’t come without its challenges. A large challenge for the LO cheer team will be finding a place to record their routines. Practice is currently held either at the high school on the baseball field or undercover at one of the elementary schools. Buttkus conceded, “It’s hard enough as it is to hold cheer practice outside in the wet and rain. We can’t tumble when it’s wet and we can’t tumble on cement.” Dry weather and appropriate ground are a must for performing otherwise they are stuck for the time being. She added, “A challenge will be the rain or being allowed to practice inside on mats. If it’s not raining, we can practice on turf, so we will need to share that space with other teams for now.” Although she acknowledges the challenges that are arising, she does not dismiss how lucky and grateful they are to even practice at all.

Like any situation, there are some silver linings and the cheer team is well aware of them. Buttkus said,  “Individuals and the team get to build on their skills. The [team] gets to work together towards a common goal: a flawless routine.” Additionally she said, “bonds are created when cheerleaders have a routine to work on together. Regardless if we are competing in front of a crowd or a camera, memories are still created!”