COVINGTON — For many high school cheerleading squads, the only opportunity to showcase their skills is during football games in the fall or basketball games in the winter.
And even then the attention isn’t on those doing flips while leading the teams onto the floor or waving pom poms on the sideline. It’s directed toward the competition on the football field or the basketball court.
But cheerleading is becoming more popular and for those who wish to showcase their cheer talent in a competitive environment, the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators (OASSA) provides such opportunities — opportunities long-time Covington cheer advisor Gretchen Schmidt and her Lady Buccs take advantage of every year.
“We go to a lot of cheer competitions every year,” said Schmidt, who has been the cheer advisor at Covington since 1996. “It’s the only way our girls get to compete in cheer.”
Covington recently qualified for the national cheer competition at Disney in Florida, where they placed 10th out of the 21 qualifying squads, despite being the smallest school there.
“We qualified for nationals at a competition in Centerville and then did very well at Disney,” Schmidt said. “The only teams to beat us were large division one schools.”
Under the guidance of Schmidt and fellow cheer coach Nicole Whiteman, Covington also qualified for the OASSA State Championships in two events at a competition held at Miamisburg High School.
“We qualified for Game Day Cheer and the Non-Building Cheerleading competitions,” Whiteman explained.
The OASSA State Cheerleading Championships were held this past weekend at Pickerington North High School and St. John Arena on the campus of the Ohio State University
On Saturday at Pickerington North High School, Covington finished fourth out of the ten qualifying teams in the Game Day competition.
Then, on Sunday at St. John Arena, Covington defeated the nine other qualifying teams in the Cheerleading competition to capture the program’s second state championship, the first of which came in 2005.
“It was so exciting,” said Schmidt. “The girls felt we had a good chance of winning after we finished our routine.”
Covington has had high exceptions after its routine in the past, but ended up coming away disappointed.
“In the past, after we would finish our routine, parents would tell us we looked the best, but then we would end up finishing lower than we hoped,” explained Whiteman. “This time, the girls knew we did really well with our routine, so we were pretty optimistic.”
Even though Covington felt it put together a near flawless routine, there was still some uneasiness as the results were being announced.
“As they begin to announce the placements, you get worried because we never got to see all of the other squads do their routines,” Schmidt said. “We really only saw our routine, so we really didn’t know how the other teams did.”
But as the placements announced narrowed down the teams through the top five — Tinora as fifth, Fort Loramie in fourth and Woodmore in third — it came down to two teams for the top prize, Liberty Center and Covington.
“At that time, you just hope your name isn’t announced,” said Whiteman.
As the girls huddled together on the floor, Liberty Center was announced as the runner-up, meaning Covington was the last team remaining.
And then the final announcement was made: “Your 2020 Division Five State Champions, give it up for Covington.”
Covington tallied 374.5 points, over 20 points better than the 354.0 points awarded to runner-up Liberty Center.
“I’m so proud of the girls,” praised Schmidt of her squad. “Every one of these girls tumble, and we were the only full team who could tumble. I think that made a huge difference because the judges reward you if your routine has a higher rate of difficulty.”
Covington’s routine was one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult routine of those in the qualifying field. And despite one miscue on a landing, the Lady Buccs received high marks across the board.
“We received a lot of nines out of tens in each category, which is very hard to do,” said Whiteman. “We were told they would judge more favorably to the difficult routines, and our routine was extremely difficult.”
Executing a difficult routine takes a significant amount of athletic ability, as well as a significant amount of time to perfect.
And many of the girls on Covington’s squad are multi-sport athletes, which makes practicing with the full squad a challenge at times due to the juggling of schedules and practice locations.
“Sometimes we were able to practice at the school, but sometimes we had to go to Tumble U (in Piqua) to practice,” Schmidt explained. “Piqua and Bradford also helped us out a lot by letting us use their mats.”
Being a small school program with plenty of obstacles to overcome, success came down to the competitive drive of twelve cheerleaders and two coaches.
“It’s just a credit to these girls,” Schmidt said. “They sacrificed a lot and worked extremely hard for this.”