July 3, 2008 · Updated 5:58 PM
"Most weeks, at most local sporting events, Oak Harbor High School's only 1999-2000 state championship team has been on the sidelines.Now, they're at center stage under a national spotlight.The 22-member Oak Harbor High School Cheerleading Squad took first place Saturday in the large varsity cheer division of the Pacific Northwest Championship at Pacific Lutheran University. In two weeks, they head for the USA Nationals at Anaheim, Calif.Oak Harbor's cheer squad has been perennially strong under nine-year coach Pam Headridge, but this is the first time they have nailed down a state title.The difference this year: Teamwork.Especially the stunt building, depends on everybody's timing, everyone doing it together,'' Headridge said. Some groups lay blame when things don't go right. This group, when they have a hard time, they try to work it out together and find out what it is that needs to be fixed. And they find a way to make it better.''A sort of a cross between choreographed gymnastics and competition dance, team cheerleading requires tight synchronization, concentration and a balanced mix of strength and grace, Headridge said. About half of Oak Harbor High's 2-1/2 minute routine is devoted to gymnastics and team stunts, all set to music. The other half is classic cheerleading, with arm motions, level changes, formation changes and more stunts.The strength positions are crucial, Headridge said. Some teams carry up to 10 boys, who hold down the bases of pyramids, flip teammates in the air and do floor tumbling. Oak Harbor has only five boys, but they worked hard and we competed,'' Headridge said.The team took an early setback when Andy Mesner twisted a knee in warmups, Headridge said, but the coaches changed the team's choreography to compensate and Mesner was able to compete.I held my breath for the entire 2-1/2 minute routine,'' assistant coach Chico Lopez said. They needed to hit all their stunts and synchronize every move in order to win, and they did it!''The nationals will be a tough nut to crack, Headridge said, but there's reason for optimism this year. Instead of competing with the largest squads in the country, Oak Harbor will compete in a newly created small varsity division that limits the number of boys to four.The team is also adding some stiffer challenges to its stunt routine, Headridge said. The most notable is a double-twist basket catch that requires a team member to do a double twist in mid-air before her teammates catch her.Now we're the big fish going down to the little pond, so we're going to make it a little harder,'' Headridge said.Headridge credited parental support, particularly from Robin Gohn, and team captains Julie Palko, Tasha Kroh, Cindy Sendaydiego, Susie Eggen, Sarah Gohn and Eliza Comicho with cementing a championship team together.Last year, Oak Harbor placed 22nd out of 32 teams at nationals, Headridge said. This year, with the division shift and her strongest team yet, she's optimistic.I expect to bring home a trophy,'' she said. I don't know about first, but I expect to bring home a trophy.''"