The Philomath High School cheer squad includes, from left, back, Kaylie Kohler, Olivia Rice, Ava Webster, Ashley Kohler; front, Zoey Ringwald, Josey Schreiber, Marit Riese and Tatum Pope. (Photo by Tye Allen/TWA Photography)

In an effort to raise money for the program’s needs while celebrating the season and getting revved up for state, the Philomath High School cheer program will host for the first time a multi-team showcase event on Sunday.

PHS coach Kathy Kohler said that the event, which begins at 9 a.m. Feb. 5, will be an exhibition only with no judges since it is not sanctioned by the Oregon School Activities Association.

“We really just want to celebrate the team’s successes through the season and give them a carefree and relaxed place to show off all of their skills,” Coach Kohler said. “We actually have a lot of teams that aren’t sanctioned by the OSAA coming to perform. Because they can’t go to sanctioned events, it’s exciting for them.”

As of late last week, Coach Kohler said teams that had confirmed to participate with Philomath High and Philomath Rec Cheer at the event were groups from Corvallis, La Pine, Sheridan and South Eugene along with West Valley Youth and Newport Royals Youth programs.

Philomath Rec Cheer is a new program that currently includes students in fourth through eighth grade.

“They’ve done really well and are learning a lot and growing,” Coach Kohler said. “I’m hopeful that a lot of these kids will continue through high school.”

Admission to the “Go For Gold” showcase is $10 per person with children ages 5 and under free. Vendors and concessions will be on site. There is a ticket upgrade option available for $20 per person, which includes a $5 voucher for swag and access to the event’s VIP lounge.

Money raised from the event will go toward new equipment and tumbling classes for the cheer program.

“We reached our goal for our mats and they have been ordered,” said Coach Kohler, referring to the team’s fundraising project of focus last year. “We now go to PEGA (PEAK Elite Gymnastics Academy in Corvallis) for tumbling classes and so funds will go towards helping pay for that and for transportation and lodging because we do stay overnight when we go to state.”

Philomath High’s cheerleaders root the team on during a recent basketball game. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A family atmosphere

Philomath High’s cheer team has eight members — senior Ashley Kohler, junior Marit Riese, sophomores Kaylie Kohler, Tatum Pope, Olivia Rice, Ava Webster and Zoe Ringwald, and freshman Josey Schreiber. The Kohler sisters and Pope serve as the squad’s co-captains.

“It is a young team again this year which is exciting for the future,” Coach Kohler said. “There is also a lot of learning still happening but they are responding very well. Most of them came back from last year, so it’s not new to them but they’re growing really well.”

Ashley Kohler said she loves cheer most for the community aspect.

“It’s a very positive environment to be around,” she said, “and it’s really inspiring to see how much passion other cheerleaders put into the same sport you do.”

Kaylie Kohler enjoys the family atmosphere — and she’s not just referring to her mom and sister.

“All of us are really close to each other and we can talk in the sport and outside of it like during school,” she said. “We’re all really friendly with each other so there’s no drama between us and I really like that.”

Ava Webster said she’s been cheering since a very young age.

“It’s kinda just stuck with me since,” she said. “It’s just been more like another day and you do this and so without it, it’s really odd. That’s why I decided to join cheer when I moved to Philomath.”

Webster moved to Philomath about two weeks before the PHS campus shut down because of COVID.

A year-round activity

The bulk of cheer competitions take place during the winter sports season with the OSAA State Championships coming up on Feb. 11 at Oregon City High School. But cheerleading is a year-round activity with “team placements” occurring in June followed by skill building and camps throughout the summer.

“Then we hit the fall season and we do two competitions,” Coach Kohler said. “Then we’ll transition into a regular competition season for the winter and basketball. Then we’re done when basketball’s done and we take our six to eight weeks off and come right back and do it again.”

At the end of the summer, the cheer team holds a mini-camp for youth. Another activity during the fall is cheering at football games.

The cheer squad works out during a practice last week. (Photo provided by Kathy Kohler)

The competitions in the fall are Oregon Cheerleading Coaches Association events. Philomath participated in Game Day Championships on Oct. 8 in Sherwood and finished fifth in its division.

“You start with a band dance and then they give you a situation in a football game and you have to do an appropriate cheer for that and you don’t know what’s going to be until you’re there,” Coach Kohler explained. “Then you do a crowd-leading cheer and end with your fight song. All schools that participate have to do those four things.”

Philomath also went to an OCCA all-state event on Nov. 5 at South Albany.

“I had my first all-state placement with Zoe Ringwald … and my first-ever stunt group, they also placed on the all-state team,” Coach Kohler said.

The Warriors competed in the 4A/3A/2A/1A group stunt division and placed fourth. Ringwald was among eight cheerleaders honored on the all-state team at the event.

During the OSAA season, competitions started with Springfield on Jan. 7, Sweet Home on Jan. 14 and Gladstone on Jan. 15. The Warriors will head to the Tualatin Last Chance competition on Feb. 4 before hosting their exhibition on Feb. 5.

Cheering on each other

Ashley Kohler described a competition day.

“Oh my gosh, you wake up early, my wakeup time is 5:30 for most competitions, and you show up to the school competition-ready —makeup done, hair done, all of it,” she said. “And then you do a few run-throughs, put the mats away, get on the bus, leave, be there at around 8 o’clock-ish and you wait until your warmup time … and then you perform and wait for awards.”

Kaylie Kohler said the team always has a positive reaction after competing.

“Right after we get off the mat after we did everything, the first thought isn’t like, ‘oh my gosh, what did we do wrong?” she said. “No, it’s like, what did we do right? Like, what did we accomplish? It’s that exciting moment where we just did that whole thing.”

Ashley Kohler, who will graduate this spring and plans to try out for the Oregon State cheer team, said the squad’s appearances at games mostly involve an unplanned approach.

“There are some things that we do plan out and there are other things that are just right then and there,” she said. “Since the basketball games are at the same time as the competition season, that’s more of a go-with-the-flow kind of thing.”

Kaylie Kohler likes both cheering at games and competing in meets but favors the latter.

“I like the cheering part of games, I like being there, I like supporting our teams,” she said. “But I just like how being on the mat, you get that adrenaline rush for those two minutes that we have on the mat and it’s really fun.”

Webster also prefers the competitions.

“Only because then you get to be there as a family,” she said. “It’s not really like a team or a sport — you’re all in it together, you hype each other up and it feels like they are your family. At the end of the year, you’ve grown so much and you’ve learned, ‘oh, I can trust these people.’”

Winning medals last fall at the OCCA all-state cheerleading finals were from left, Olivia Rice, Ava Webster, Zoey Ringwald, Kaylie Kohler and Ashley Kohler. (Photo provided by Kathy Kohler)

State championships on Feb. 11

Philomath will be competing in the Class 4A traditional category Feb. 11 at state. The Warriors are scheduled to be the first 4A school to perform in Oregon City with a 9:05 a.m. slot. The 4A schools to follow will be The Dalles, North Bend, Pendleton, Gladstone, Cascade, Newport, St. Helens, Junction City, Molalla, Sweet Home, Cottage Grove and Marshfield.

“It’s different since they moved it to a high school versus Veterans Memorial Coliseum … so it’s set up a little differently,” Coach Kohler said. “But it’s fun and I think they have a good time — it’s the camaraderie between the teams … everybody supports everybody else and it’s a really cool environment to be in.”

Philomath competed as a coed team last year but has an all-girl squad this time around.

Ashley Kohler, the most experienced athlete on the roster, said the cheerleaders need to be mentally prepared for the big day.

“You tell yourself that it’s just another competition, like, it’s no different, and a lot of people freak out over it — me included,” she said. “But it’s just another competition that a lot of teams support you … state, I feel, is where you get the most support from the other teams.”

According to a recent cheer story published by OSAAtoday, the teams that are expected to be contenders for the state title include Gladstone, Sweet Home, Newport, The Dallas and North Bend.

The OSAA added a Game Day category but schools can enter only one of the two competitions, not both.

Webster believes staying positive will be a key.

“Normally, that’s all we really need,” she said. “As long as we have our team, we’re fine and everything else doesn’t matter. At the moment, that’s how it feels.”

Said Kaylie Kohler, “We just need to try our hardest. I’ve seen all of us do it, we all can do it. We’ve just got to be confident in ourselves and work together.”

Following state, Philomath will then participate on Feb. 18 in the OCCA Championships at Salem Pavilion, located at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

“It’s kind of a last hurrah for all the teams and typically it’s our favorite event because state’s over, the pressure’s gone and it’s much more relaxed,” Coach Kohler said. “I’m excited this year because it’s kind of like the state competition for rec teams as well, so it’s their last big event. So we’ll take the kids and see how they do there.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.