Ashley Kohler
PHS junior co-captain Ashley Kohler performs out front during a routine performed during halftime of a Feb. 15 basketball game. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Thirteen students participating this year in Kathy Kohler’s program

Contributing to the home-game experience this past Tuesday as Philomath High hosted senior night basketball games, the school’s cheerleading program may have attracted more attention than usual simply because of the numbers.

The program appears to be flourishing under coach Kathy Kohler with 13 students in uniform. Besides their efforts to keep fans worked up, the cheerleaders also entertained the crowd with a halftime routine where they could show off their skills.

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Coach Kohler, who reignited the school’s cheer program in 2017, has seen unprecedented success this season in terms of student participation.

“We’ve grown into a competitive team that is recognizable in the community as well as the state,” Kohler said. “Each year, the image of our program grows in a positive manner and I work really hard on that. I think that’s really helped a lot.”

As mentioned, Kohler has a roster of 13 students with 10 of those from the freshmen class. The youngest group includes her second daughter, Kaylie, and she brought along several friends to give those numbers a boost. Even among the three upperclassmen on the team, two of them are newcomers.

Freshman Gavan Hinchberger goes high in the air during the team’s routine. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“I had one returner this year and … some of these kids have never ever done a sport,” Coach Kohler said. “So a brand new group of kids and you kind of have to take that step back and be like, ‘OK, we really need to start completely over and from the ground up and they’ve done a very good job. I’m very, very happy with them.”

Junior Ashley Kohler said the toughest part involves the “cheer section of our routines.”

“We have trouble staying at the same pace, the same volume, everybody yelling the same thing at the same time,” she said. “There are some good days when it’s obviously better than others.”

On a more positive note, the team has done well in some other areas.

“I feel like we’ve definitely mastered the pyramid and our dance section of the music in … the last third of our routine,” she said.

Routines can be as long as 2-1/2 minutes and if teams go over, penalty points come into play.

The team’s other co-captain, junior Kirsten Padilla, first came out for cheerleading as a freshman. After not participating last season, she’s back in the program.

“It was a better experience than it was my first year doing cheer,” she said. “I knew what was going to happen … what was expected and it was just a little bit stressful. Overall, it was a really good experience.”

Padilla has had more fun with cheer this second time around.

“I definitely enjoy it with younger people more than older because then it’s not as stressful — like as a freshman going in with a bunch of seniors is very stressful just to compare yourself to them,” Padilla said,  “As of now, it’s easier.”

Boys have been in the cheer program in past years here and there but this season, Kohler had three.

“A couple of the gentlemen do have aspirations to be a partner center and there are a couple who are working really hard towards that,” Kohler said. “Some of them are here for fun, which is great, and they’re doing a fantastic job.”

Freshman Gavan Hinchberger came into the cheerleading program as a self-taught tumbler.

“He has brought a lot to the table with that and as far as inspiring the rest of team members to want to be able to do that, too, and to fuel them to maybe pay attention a little more.”

Kaylie Kohler, from left, Daniel Mendoza and Kirsten Padilla with Ashley Kohler up top during the team’s state routine. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The one area where the team’s inexperience worked against Philomath could be seen in competitions. At state last weekend, the team had to go up against the largest coed squads in the state. The Oregon School Activities Association has a Class 4A division for state, but Philomath falls into the all-class coed division.

Philomath placed 15th out of the 17 teams competing. The teams are judged for building skills, tumbling/jumps and overall routine. Teams can be penalized for miscues with points deducted from the final score.

“There’s two judges per scoresheet just to try to keep it unbiased; they bring out-of-state judges, which is kind of nice,” Kohler said.

The building skills category involves everything that goes up.

“So any time any of the athletes leave the floor, whether it’s being thrown or being picked up or anything like that, any time you build, that’s where that scoresheet comes from,” Kohler said.
The tumbling/jumps is self-explanatory and the overall routine category appears as though it involves a degree of subjectivity.

“Overall, it’s ‘how well do we enjoy watching you’ and ‘how well did you present what you’re presenting?’” Kohler explained. “That’s typically the scoresheet that you kind of want to score the highest on but each section is scored on two things — how hard is it and how well did you do?”

Junior Kirsten Padilla, center, serves as a team co-captain. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Working against Philomath when going up against the larger schools is the number of cheerleaders on the floor.

“I only put 12 out there but there are teams of 20 out there,” she said. “So it’s easier for them to get those harder points because there are so many more of them.”

Ashley Kohler, the lone returning cheerleader on the roster, described her experience at the state championships last weekend as “really anxious.”

“Over the past six, seven months now, I’ve developed a severe anxiety,” Ashley said. “So I get triggered super easy and having that nerve of performing in front of pretty much the whole state and the cheer community was kind of nerve-racking.”

Padilla felt the appearance at state went well.

“I think it was just about the nerves with some of the things messing up but overall, I think it went how I wanted it to,” she said.

Ava Simmons, Ashley Kohler and Ava Helms perform during the Feb. 15 performance at PHS. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Overall, Ashley Kohler said what she loves most about cheer is those team-bonding moments.

“My favorite part of being on the cheer team is definitely going places — the competitions and away games and trips that we do in the summer,” she said. “It’s so much fun and it’s a really big team bonding moment when we go places as a team, other than just staying here and practicing.”

Padilla, on the other hand, likes to work on those skills in home practices.

“My favorite part would be just plain practice — practicing for the competitions and stuff because it gets so intense (in competitions),” she said. “When we actually hit things, it’s like the rush in the moment is amazing.”

The OSAA championships didn’t end the season for the Warriors with a competition also this weekend at the Oregon Cheer Coaches Association championships in Salem.

“That’s basically their last hurrah,” Kohler said in reference to competitions. “Usually, that’s our best. The pressure is off and we’re just there to have fun. And we’re just going to go out with a bang so I’m really excited to see what they put out this weekend.”

Ashley Kohler