Back when Kathy Kohler wore Warrior colors as a student, she learned routines and cheers under then-coach Kim St. Clair. Now she leads a Philomath High cheer program that has grown over the past three years — tripling in size even since just last season.
“There was no cheer program when I came in,” Kohler said Friday night in between the girls and boys varsity basketball games. “I think they had been without one for a year. But even prior to that, it had only been sideline.”
That’s been one of the biggest steps forward for the rebirth of the PHS cheer squad. This past weekend, the Warriors competed in the Oregon School Activities Association state championships — possibly for the first time ever but if not, at least for the first time in several years.
“I do know we put the first trophies in the trophy case, so that’s exciting,” Kohler said.
Philomath won a third-place trophy in the band dance category at a new event called the “Game Day Championships,” which is limited to sideline routines. The Warriors also brought home hardware from competitions in Sweet Home and Lebanon.
“It’s tough, it’s a very demanding and very rigorous sport,” Kohler said.
The cheer squad’s roster features three senior leaders in Kayla Doyle, Sadiemay Gullberg and Leticia Merino. Doyle has been with the program all three years since it came back to the school with Gullberg and Merino joining as juniors.
A fourth senior, Kylee Keim, helps with the program as the student manager.
“I joined junior year and I found it to be fun, so I convinced a bunch of other people to join,” Gullberg said.
Merino was one of those who joined with Gullberg.
“I wanted to be involved in school and try something new,” she said.
Doyle sees several benefits to her involvement with the program.
“I think it’s really good for becoming stronger and I also really like the family aspect,” Doyle said. “I’ve become a lot closer with (teammates) and I don’t think I ever would’ve become friends with them if I hadn’t joined cheer.”
Heading into last weekend’s state competition, the squad was working on a move called the basket toss, which involves two base team members throwing a teammate into the air and catching her.
“We recently changed it, so we have a new flyer that just learned how to basket toss,” Doyle said. “It’s difficult getting her to learn a new skill but it’s really cool in the end.”
The cheer squad actually competed in two statewide events this past weekend, beginning with the OSAA state championships on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Competing in the coed small school division, Philomath and 20 other schools were judged in three areas — building skills, tumbling/jumps and overall routine.
David Douglas won the state title in the division with The Dalles second, Henley third and Lebanon fourth.
It’s common for routines to change as the season goes on.
“They started learning it in November and we learned it fairly easy and then as we grow as a team, we throw in harder things,” Kohler said. “With state being pushed back a week, we had one more week to grow.”
The team then headed on Sunday to the Oregon Cheer Coaches Association championships, which has been holding statewide competitions for several years.
The routine that the team performed at the OSAA championships lasts 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking because we’re going up against 20 other schools,” Gullberg said. “We’ve been working on it since the beginning of the season.”
Kohler said the team has made huge strides since November.
“They're amazing, they’re dedicated, they work hard,” she said. “There’s been a few times when I’ve had to push them a little harder but they respond and they’ve overcome so many obstacles and they’re just growing every day.”
The cheer squad members go through challenging workouts and safety is an important component of what they do. There have been occasions when teammates hoisted into the air have been dropped.
“It happens and when it does, we get a little bit of wrath,” Gullberg said. “We’ve got to do stair laps and a bunch of pushups and stuff like that and we learn not to do it.”
Merino believes the senior trio has responsibilities to be leaders for the younger members of the squad. In fact, the sophomore class has the largest representation on the roster.
“All three of us work together and tell the others what to do,” Merino said.
Kohler hopes to see the cheer team continue to grow in the future.
“It’s been fun, especially since last basketball season when I had four. The jump has been very nice,” Kohler said. “I’d like to see the jump again to make it even bigger.”
Kohler said she hopes Philomath will be able to host a competition in the near future.