High school wins at state
By James Card
On Sunday, Feb. 4, police cars swarmed a bus on the outskirts of Waupaca on State Highway 22. Two fire trucks came after. They escorted the bus downtown. Approximately 300 people lined Main Street.
This was what victory looks like: coming home after a long journey to cheering crowds with a large trophy in hand.
The Waupaca High School Dance Team won the Wisconsin state championship in pom and jazz in the La Crosse Center. This tops off a dominating dance season where the Waupaca Middle School dance team won first place in pom and jazz at their state competition in Port Washington on Jan. 20. It was their second back-to-back state win in pom and jazz. The middle school team is coached by Hanna Waller.
It is the high school’s 15th state title. Their first state win was in 2008. Their last state title was 2019.
They started practicing last July four times per week. Once school started it was three-hour practices every day.
What is unique about Waupaca’s dance program is that they do their own choreography. Other schools purchase pre-made routines. As they figure out what moves work, teammates teach other teammates what they figured out. This do-it-yourself protocol also includes the middle school team. The choreography is constantly changed and refined throughout the season.
The high school team did four invitational competitions in Ashwaubenon, Little Chute, Freedom and Kaukauna. Their main contenders were from the southern part of the state and New Berlin Eisenhower and Catholic Memorial are their biggest rivals. At the regional competition, Onalaska was a contender in jazz.
At the state championship, smaller schools performed on Friday evening. On Saturday, Feb. 3, they were up at five a.m. and it takes three hours to prepare the team. A platoon of volunteer “hair moms” help prep the girl’s makeup and hair styling. The team pre-dance routine involves stretching and warm-ups and multiple visualization mediations.
Waupaca was on stage twice. Their pom performance was 10:30 a.m. and their jazz performance was at 12:50 p.m. Their pom song was a mix of multiple songs and the jazz song was Taylor Swift’s “Trouble.”
After that, it was long wait until 3:40 p.m. until the awards were announced. The judges announce the rankings of the top five teams in each division starting at five and Waupaca’s name was announced last.
“It was unbelievable, between the girls, the coaches and the crowd. It was amazing. We haven’t taken a state title for a few years. We weren’t expecting it but we were hoping for it. It was sweet. The community of Waupaca comes out to support our program amazingly. We by far had the largest crowd at the event. We feel so supported by this community. Everybody was out and amazing. It really helped,” said Coach Amy Marcom.
The celebrating did not end on Main Street on Sunday. On Monday evening, both the middle school and high school teams gave a repeat performance at the high school gymnasium that was dedicated to a fellow classmate that has cancer.
Owen Johnson, a 17-year-old Waupaca High School junior was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma with metastasis to his lungs. During football season, a knee injury was then thought to be Osgood-Schlatter disease, a knee problem related to growth spurts. Later an MRI and a bone biopsy determined it was Ewing sarcoma.
The gymnasium bleachers were completely packed and people were sitting in the aisles. The dance team members sold 50/50 raffle tickets to raise money to covers Johnson’s medical expenses. Donations can to contributed at www.gofundme.com/f/owen-johnson.
The dance competitions are not the only place to see the dance program’s performances. The middle school team performed during Arts on the Square last summer and during Halloween on Main, they teamed up with the Waupaca Senior Center for a performance. The high school team danced at Park Vista twice at Christmas.
“It was such a huge hit, we got invited to come back,” said Marcom.