Tradition of Excellence: Dodgers have become a Gold Standard in Iowa - from The Messenger
DES MOINES — Months of preparation will come down to a few minutes of execution here on Saturday.
That kind of pressure is nothing new to the Fort Dodge Senior High cheerleaders.
The Dodgers will defend their Class 4A titles in both the co-ed team competition and the timeout division during the Iowa High School State Cheerleading Championships inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Their performances may be brief, but hundreds of hours have gone into making sure everyone is on the same page when the spotlight shines on them.
“The process is very time-consuming,” said senior Addi Moritz, the first FDSH cheerleader ever to make all-state in four consecutive years and a three-time All-American. “We have three-hour practices (every day) all week, and have been working on this routine since August.
“One of the biggest challenges of being a cheerleader is that we have one chance to prove ourselves. We have two minutes and 30 seconds to show the state what we have been working on for months.”
Success is nothing new to head coach K.C. Williams and her squad. Fort Dodge has six co-ed state titles, three timeout crowns and two stunt golds to its credit under the direction of Williams, who is in her 12th — and likely final — season at the helm.
The credit, Williams insists, goes to the community’s collective support of her program.
“I was very fortunate to have been handed a strong cheer program when I became (head coach) by Teresa Casady (in 2007),” Williams said. “And when (assistant) Juli (Springer) came on board with me (in the next season), we talked about continuing the Dodger tradition and pride first and foremost. We increased the size of the program and participation, and built from that foundation to become stronger and better every year.
“Juli and I have been incredibly lucky. We’ve had great kids to work with, the families have been encouraging and helpful, and as each (student-athlete) gets older and more experienced, they’ve embraced their roles to maintain consistency (in the performances) and secure a legacy of hard work, enthusiasm and togetherness.”
Ellie Yoder — like Moritz, a seasoned veteran and an all-state and All-American honoree for three years — is well aware of both her responsibilities as a senior and the sweat equity it takes to continue Fort Dodge’s standard of excellence.
“Since we won last year, there is twice as much pressure to win again,” Yoder said. “The most important thing for us is to stay as focused as possible. The seniors and I want to win again badly, so we’ve been practicing more intensely.
“I know for the younger ones, performing can be overwhelming. (The upperclassmen) have to push them out of their comfort zone, but also encourage them, because every single person has to be 100 percent in it.”
The Dodgers will be in the large-team timeout event at 1:50 p.m. on Saturday. FDSH has two small stunt groups — consisting of five-member teams — scheduled for 2:50 and 3:40 performances. The large group co-ed competition is at 5 p.m.
Success motivates Moritz and her teammates, but the culture of the program is the top priority.
“The tradition that this program is built on is amazing,” said Moritz, who plans on attending Iowa Central Community College and entering the nursing program next fall. “Our coaches have put in over a decade of hard work and dedication to get us to where we are today. This program has been — and will continue to be — successful because of the love the coaches and athletes have not only for our sport, but each other.
“(Former) FDSH cheerleaders come to almost every practice because the program holds such a special place in their heart. As I go to my final state competition on Saturday, my heart is full of love for this program and every single person I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through this experience.”
Moritz, Yoder and the other seniors have been a driving force behind the Dodgers’ progression to elite status. While FDSH has garnered trophies and recognition in the past, the 2017 dual-title breakthrough was a first.
“Usually, our first-place wins are years apart,” said Yoder, who will enroll at the University of Iowa next fall. “This program has always been one of the best in the state, but I think we’ve grown significantly. The classes that have passed through FDSH have been very competitive and dedicated, which is why we do so well.”
Williams consistently reminds her athletes that “we’re only competing against ourselves.”
“We truly believe that if we perform up to our expectations, the rest falls into place,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of talent in the program right now; the passion is there, but overall, we’re still relatively young and inexperienced. There has been an emphasis on focus and execution, because the little things will make a difference (on Saturday). So much of this is being able to show mental toughness.”
Moritz “wants the younger (cheerleaders) to experience (a championship), because there’s no better feeling than winning that title after working so hard.”
“We have many new athletes on the competition mat, so it’s been very important to be a strong leader since (the seniors) have been through this before,” Moritz said. “We’re doing our best to keep the team focused and prepared for what is to come.”
Williams admits her feelings have been bittersweet as her final season at the helm progresses.
“It’s a passion of mine,” Williams said. “I love these kids and I love coaching.”
Once the winter sports season arrives next month, the Dodgers will be right back on the court and mat, cheering on the other programs in a more “traditional” way.
“We prepare for the state competition (during the fall), but we’re also at the football games, doing volunteer work and everything else,” Williams said. “We are here not just for the greater good of the cheer program, but the support of all Dodger athletes.”
FORT DODGE CHEER
Comp — Hope Anderson, Ava Baedke, Joley Bird, Kenna Bishop, Olivia Bork, Ava Clay, Maddie Daniel, Emma Ebelsheiser, Lexie Estlund, Brandon Gehlhausen, Brooke Greene, Emie Grove, Addi Moritz, Ella Moritz, Alaina Porter, Laney Rees, Miah Rees, Taylor Roberson, Avery Thompson, Isaach Tripp, Ellie Yoder. Alt: Sydney Karr.
Coaches — K.C. Williams, Juli Springer, Shelby Jacobson.
Timeout — Gabby Armstrong, Ellie Baedke, Brooklynn Bailey, Shelbi Beckman, Kennedy Benton, Adyson Bork, Bree Campbell, Olivia Ferris, Tavia Geilenfeld, Kenzie Kofoot, Ava Larson, Landry McBride, Piera McBride, Maddie Montgomery, Jordan Morud, Olivia Pattison, Tatem Rees, Tori Rees, Taylor Smith, Tayte Specht, Grace Sweeney, Maddie Sweeney, Makinsey Thompson, Mackenzie Weber.
Peer Coaches — Kelsey Charlet, Macy Benton.
Stunt — Ava Clay, Addi Moritz, Laney Rees, Avery Thompson, Ellie Yoder.
Stunt — Olivia Bork, Emma Ebelsheiser, Lexie Estlund, Alaina Porter, Tatem Rees.