OCC'S CHEER AND DANCE SQUADS PREPARE FOR NATIONALS IN FLORIDAThat's what Orange Coast College's cheerleading and dance teams have amassed at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National Championships, held annually in Orlando, Fla.
Friday, December 13, 2002
And, at the moment, OCC's power-leaden cheer and dance squads are putting the finishing touches on another run at a pair of national titles. They'll take part in the 2003 UCA Championships Jan. 9-11 at Walt Disney World/MGM Resorts.
Before they depart for Florida, however, they'll host a public preview of their competition routines on Monday evening, Jan. 6, in Peterson Gymnasium on Orange Coast College's campus. The performance is set for 8 p.m. A $5 admission fee will help to defray travel expenses for the two squads.
More than 400 fans attended last year's preview performance.
OCC's teams will take with them to Florida a well-earned and nicely-burnished national reputation. Everyone in Orlando knows about the Orange Coast College Pirates. Over the past seven years OCC's cheer and dance teams have consistently proven that, in national competition, they can go toe-to-toe with the big boys -- and girls.
"We've developed a reputation and a bit of a swagger," acknowledges OCC cheer and dance advisor, Mike Reynolds. Reynolds is in his eighth season as coach of the two OCC squads. He is assisted by his business partner, co-coach and friend, Dan Sapp.
"The other teams know who we are, and four-year coaches recruit our athletes."
OCC's dancers have won five UCA national crowns, including the last four in a row (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002), while the cheerleaders have grabbed four titles (1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000).
But OCC's dancers will be penalized this year for their dominance. They're being relegated to a lesser division in the competition because four-year universities are miffed at their success. The Pirate dancers have been barred from battling the biggest and best in UCA's Division IA dance competition.
"We won the Division IA title last year and I guess it embarrassed some big four year schools," Reynolds says. "ESPN has been replaying our winning performance over and over, all year. Major universities didn't appreciate being beaten by a community college, so they requested that the UCA exclude us from Division IA competition. The UCA complied."
Last year, in winning the Division IA title, OCC's dance team finished ahead of such powers as Indiana University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Alabama.
"That was a huge thrill, but now we're back in the open division and we can't be complacent."
OCC's dancers have virtually owned the open division since 1997. They captured the open division title three years running before moving up to Division IA last year.
Twenty-eight schools are entered in the 2003 open division dance competition, and the Pirates are ranked number one in the preliminary rankings, based upon video submissions. UC Davis is also considered a contender, as is last year's open division titlist, Walla Walla Community College of Walla Walla, Wash.
Other open division competitors include Long Island University, St. Cloud State University, Lehigh University, Northern Kentucky University, the University of South Carolina - Aikin, and the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs. Five of the schools are community colleges, and 23 are four-year institutions.
OCC's cheerleaders will compete in the community college division again this year, as they have in the past. The Pirates finished second to Southern California rival, Palomar College of San Marcos, last year.
"I thought we were the best team in the community college cheerleading competition last year, but we beat ourselves with a fall during the routine. A clean performance is a must if you hope to win. Palomar is very good again this year, but so are we. It'll be a spirited competition."
OCC has 13 ladies on its dance team this year, and 24 guys and gals on the cheer squad. The cheer team features 14 males and 10 females. Reynolds says the two units are strong.
"We seem to get better each year. We attract a great group of athletes. The vast majority of our 37 cheerleaders and dancers are freshman, so that means we'll be a veteran crew next year."
How does OCC attract so many talented students?
"We get unsolicited letters and emails all the time from throughout the country," Reynolds says. "Our best recruiters are our former cheerleaders and dancers -- they're all over the place -- and they send good kids our way. They talk up our program, and we appreciate that."
Three former members of OCC's dance squad currently are Laker girls. Four are Clipper girls, and several are Charger girls. Graduates of OCC's cheer and dance squads regularly transfer to four-year schools throughout the nation. Many land athletic scholarships.
"We've been a major feeder to the University of Hawaii for years. We have three kids there right now. One of our former students is a Hawaii coach, and we have an alumnus coaching at Northern Arizona University.
"We have at least 20 former members of our squads cheering or dancing at four year universities. They're at such places as Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nebraska, the University of Arizona, Cal State Fullerton and Sacramento State University."
Reynolds hears a consistent refrain from his athletes: they wish that OCC were a four-year college.
"They don't want to leave this place, they love it here and want to stay," he quips. "Many of our athletes who go on to four-year schools return to us after their university careers are over and tell us that they had the best experience and most fun at Orange Coast College. We take that as high praise."
"I definitely wish I could have gone to Coast for four years," says 20-year-old Danielle Rein, who was an OCC dancer for two years before transferring to Cal State Fullerton, where she'll dance next year. "Orange Coast is a great school with a great cheer and dance program. I loved all of my professors there. It was tough to say goodbye. The dance team had a little saying while I was there: 'Coast for life!'
"It was so much fun going to practice. We were all very close -- like a family."
Reynolds refers to his cheerleaders and dancers as "athletes."
"They aren't a 'rah-rah' group, they're athletes, and they train hard year-round," he says. "Probably as many as two-thirds of them teach for professional cheer and dance companies here in Southern California."
Reynolds admits there's an element of danger in the stunts his cheerleaders perform.
"The girls on our cheer squad 'fly' in every routine. We throw our girls at least 25 feet into the air, and, to do that, the girls must have complete confidence in their partners. The first responsibility of every guy in every stunt is to catch the girl -- and our guys always do. We've had a few guys get a foot in the face or an elbow in the head, but our girls never hit the floor."
What makes the Pirate spirit squad so successful?
If you query this year's 37 dancers and cheerleaders, they'll all say the same thing: it starts at the top -- with Reynolds and Sapp. Enthusiastic leaders and teachers, the dynamic duo love what they do. Reynolds specializes in cheer, and Sapp works with the dancers.
"I watched OCC compete in the nationals on ESPN a few years ago, and I was very impressed with their spirit and enthusiasm," says Norris Dominique, who cheered at OCC for two years and now attends Morehead State University, in Booneville, Ky. "I knew I had to go to Coast. Mike and Dan are fantastic coaches. They make OCC's cheer and dance program what it is -- a national leader. They're respected all over the country."
Dominique went from the best community college cheer and dance program in the land to the best program in Division I. Morehead State's coed cheer squad has captured 11 Division I national championships in two decades.
Reynolds and Sapp grew up in Texas, a state where football and cheerleading are a way of life -- more accurately, an obsession. Reynolds hails from Athens, the "Black Eyed Pea Capital of the World," situated 75 miles east of Dallas. Sapp is from Irving, between Dallas and Fort Worth, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
"In Texas, once a kid pops out of the womb, it's either football or cheerleading," Reynolds says with a laugh.
Reynolds and Sapp were cheerleaders at Trinity Valley Community College.
"Trinity was five-time national champ in the years we were there," Reynolds says. "It became the first community college to compete in the national championships."
Now OCC's teams, coached by the Texas pair, dominate the community college scene.
Reynolds earned a B.A. degree in marketing from East Texas State University. Following graduation, he and Sapp packed a car and headed west...for California. Sapp completed his degree in psychology at California State University, Long Beach.
Reynolds was a cheerleader and stunt team member for the Los Angeles Rams. He traveled with the Rams to play in Japan, and cheered at the American Bowl in London. Sapp was also on the Rams' stunt team, and was a member of the Long Beach State dance team. He danced professionally with Paula Abdul, and performed in music videos and at the 1992 Academy Awards.
After his cheerleading career was over, Reynolds worked as a loan officer for a mortgage company. But cheer, dance and coaching were in his blood. Nine years ago he and Sapp opened Orange County's first cheerleading and dance school, Pace All-Stars in Huntington Beach, a school for students from ages five through 23.
"We were invited eight years ago to come to OCC and help build a program," Reynolds says. "Many of our Pace dancers and cheerleaders were looking for a place in Southern California to go to college and compete. USC and UCLA didn't offer the type of program they were looking for. We were able to establish a very competitive program right here at Coast."
During their first year at the helm -- 1995-96 -- OCC won the national championship in the community college cheerleading division, and finished second in the open dance competition. It was a foretaste of things to come.
The two programs now attract students from well outside the boundaries of Orange County.
"We're seen regularly on ESPN," Reynolds says, "because the network re-runs footage all year long from the Universal Cheerleaders Association National Championships. Many kids are introduced to us via television."
Two years ago, OCC's dance squad appeared in an MTV video. They've also done commercials.
"We're also on the UCA web site, and we're listed in the UCA national rankings. Everyone who is interested in cheer and dance knows who we are."
All members of the two Orange Coast College spirit squads are talented athletes and performers. Most of the female cheerleaders are former gymnasts, and many are dancers. All of the dancers have extensive experience. The guys are former football players, wrestlers or water polo players.
"The girls must be athletic, and the guys strong," Reynolds says.
Following graduation, OCC's cheerleaders and dancers don't forget their roots.
"I had a fantastic experience at Coast," says Joslin de Diego, an OCC cheerleader from 1996-98. She went on to cheer for three years at the University of Hawaii.
"I went to Hawaii on a full scholarship -- the university paid my tuition, fees and books, which, for an out-of-state student, was substantial," she says. "OCC provided me with a fantastic opportunity. The trips to the national championships in Florida were something I'll never forget."
Tricia Salvo, a member of OCC's 1995-97 cheer teams, received a scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University. Several of her OCC teammates accompanied her.
"I have fond memories of Coast," she says. "It was an exhilarating experience. We won two national championships while I was there, and I was a member of that first team that really got things rolling. Mike and Dan were a big influence in my life.
"It was because of Coast -- and its cheer program -- that I was able to continue my education at a private university."
OCC's cheerleaders and dancers are scouted by four-year institutions each year at the nationals in Orlando. Four-year coaches talk to the students, and frequently offer scholarships.
"University coaches watch our performances," Reynolds says. "They'll see an athlete that they like and will make contact and inquire as to their plans after OCC. Just like football and basketball coaches, these cheer and dance coaches are out to recruit the best talent they can find. Our students end up with scholarships and paid educations."
"That's how I was recruited to Hawaii," Joslin de Diego said. "U of H coaches spotted me in Orlando and talked with me. They told me they wanted me to come to Hawaii after finishing my studies at Coast."
"She was a proven commodity," Reynolds said, "no risk for the university. Joslin was already a good college student and an excellent athlete. They couldn't miss with her."
"I'd been planning to go to UCLA," de Diego says, "but, frankly, UCLA doesn't have a very good cheer program. Hawaii sounded great, so I went."
OCC's highly successful spirit squads are a springboard to success. Students enjoy two great years of competition, and national championships are always a byproduct. A bachelor's degree awaits those who transfer to a university.
Cheerleading and dance are two of a multitude of ways that Orange Coast College helps its students to soar.