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Because Silver Didn't Match...
Silence smoked in the air and it was the only thing I could breathe. My eyelids were closed yet I was still blinded by the yellow lights reflecting off the gold costume in front of me. My body was stone-still. I was motionless and so was the rest of the arena. The only thing I could hear was my own heart, beating at its unusually slow rate, and I listened to it get louder and faster until I thought it was going to erupt from my chest and pour out onto the gold fabric that held it in place. I pushed my tongue to the roof of my mouth and subconsciously held it there. My hands clenched and I felt the line of sweat melt away. Nothing happened in the final moment. “Second place…an amazing tradition… going home with…Seminole High School!” The rest is a blur.
I grew up in an athletic house. My dad grew up playing baseball. It was his passion. After a tragic car accident, though, he was no longer able to play, so he started coaching. I had an older brother who grew up with the same passion for baseball and is now going off to play it in college. As a child, though, he also played competitive soccer and basketball. My younger brother came along when I was three and followed in the family’s footsteps.
I don’t remember ever learning how to play baseball, I just always knew. I, along with my brothers, was born a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. Our childhood summers were filled with season tickets to Cubs games, park district sports, and hours at the neighborhood park playing pick-up games.
When I was six years of age I started taking dance classes, one hour, one day a week. Dance was always recreational for me, just something to do and never to be too serious about. As a matter-of-fact, I quit for a while around the age of ten. I wanted to focus my life on softball and basketball. I figured both sports could take me far in life, and I would face the decision of which one in high school.
After a couple weeks without dance, I realized how much I missed it, and even though it wasn’t something I was too serious about, I wasn’t ready to give it up. I continued with my weekly dance classes and soon started taking multiple classes a week, but only for pure enjoyment. I still practiced basketball and softball ten times more than I did dance.
I remember going to a football game at my school one time. I enjoyed watching football and when half-time came around I didn’t even think to pay attention. All of a sudden my friends started screaming because the Hawkettes, the school’s dance team, was performing. I didn’t even watch their whole performance because I had no interest.
Around third grade, some of my friends were signing up for a summer camp that the Hawkettes led. I decided to do it, but only because my friends were. I started doing it every summer up until I hit high school years. A couple of years though, it interfered with basketball camp so I would leave dance camp early. I, of course, couldn’t miss basketball but was more than happy to leave dance camp early. At Hawkette camp, we had a contest to see who had the best jumps. One of the camp counselors, Jackie, who comes into play later, chose me to go on to the final round. I didn’t care at all though, so I lost.
The Hawkettes were an award winning dance team. To this day, they have won a total of 29 state championships. The Varsity team has held 2, 1 decade winning streaks. The Junior Varsity team has been crowned the best High Kick team in the state for the past decade. Varsity went down to Orlando in 2007, for the first time, and competed in Universal Dance Association’s National Dance Team Championship. They competed in the Semi-Final round in the High Kick division and made it to Finals. It is very rare to make it to Finals your first time ever competing at Nationals. The following day they competed at Finals and placed 7th in the Nation. It is unheard-of to place this well for your first time at Nationals. They were known as the underdogs as they climbed the ladder two steps at a time. In 2009 the Varsity team came in 5th place, in 2010 they came in 3rd place, and in 2011 a legend would be born.
As life went on I became more serious about my athletics and dance. I was oblivious as to how important my decision would be and how soon it would come. I remember that day still. I was sitting outside in my garage with the radio playing as thoughts ran through my head. I had the tryout form for the dance team sitting right in front of me. I dribbled a basketball next to it while I stared at the ground. All of my friends were trying out for the team and something was telling me to follow them, but my dreams had always been about sports. On my right foot I had on my dance shoe, and on my left was my basketball shoe. I memorized the silver Nike sign on my left foot and retained the golden stitching on my right foot. I remember the radio playing, “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. I knew whether I chose dance or sports I would go far in life and be very successful. It was in my blood to play sports, but in my skin to dance. One of these would take over my life, starting the next day. I had camp coming up for the high school’s softball team that I would have to train for. I sat there, looked at each foot, and tried to picture myself in different scenarios. I pictured myself in a stadium, under the lights, and every seat was filled. I was up to bat and hit a home run. I ran the bases and met the rest of my team at home plate and jumped into their arms. Then I imagined myself on the National’s dance floor. The complex was at full capacity. I would walk onto the floor with my head held high and walk off the floor as a national champion. I juggled ideas as the sun set and moon rose. I took my basketball and walked out onto my driveway. I dribbled twice and set my stance. This was how I was going to decide. If I make the shot, it’s basketball. If I miss, well, then I guess I wasn’t fit for sports. I shot the ball and watched it fly. It seemed to move in slow motion, until it made contact with the rim. It swooped around the rim, from left to right and went halfway in, came back out, and flew over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. I stood there for a moment and did absolutely nothing. No thoughts ran through my head. I could’ve sworn that time froze. I would become a Hawkette. I would become a national champion.
Winning a national championship took more than talent. You needed to have a mindset that can’t really be explained. Every time you practiced the routine you had to zone everything out. You had to mentally and physically push yourself harder than you ever have. It was a mind game you would play by yourself. You were both the winner and the loser, but there was no keeping score. Every second of the two minute routine meant something. Each move you had to hit with more and more strength. Each kick had to snap more than the one before it. If you felt tired you would push yourself even harder because you were embarrassed not to. You were ashamed of yourself if you gave up and cheated your way through. Even more than embarrassment, though, morality is what pushed you to the top. It was this whole moral thing. You knew that it was right to push yourself until you couldn’t go anymore and you knew it was wrong to stop trying. But ultimately, though, you did it because you wanted to. You put yourself through the pain and stress because you wanted to see the end result and you wanted to reach your goal, and that was it.
I remember one of our first goals was to win all blue ribbons at camp. Every summer we went away to Universal Dance Association’s (UDA) four day camp. UDA was the organization we competed in, not only at a state level, but also the national level. When you went to camp you learned three dances: A routine, B routine, and C routine. You performed all of those routines on the last day and received an individual ribbon: blue was the best, red meant you had some mistakes, and white, well, you never wanted to get a white ribbon. At the end of each routine you would stand there with your hanads behind your back. All you were thinking was blue ribbon, blue ribbon, blue ribbon. For the first time ever that dream came true and my school had gotten all blue ribbons. Every girl, of our team of 24, received three blue ribbons, one for each routine. We could smell a strong future ahead of us, but touching it is was mattered.
Football season came up faster than imagined, and boy was it rough. We performed at all of the home Varsity Football games at half time. I will never forget this one practice when we were working on one of our football routines. We had drilled it over and over again, repeatedly going over the same sections but none of us could get it right. We did the dance full out and when we hit our ending pose we looked over at our coach. She was sitting there with her head between her knees. We were silent. She looked up and her eyes were bloodshot. She never cries. Where we really that bad? “Go home and think about what you’re doing,” Jackie said. “Practice and come back tomorrow knowing what you’re doing or we’re not doing any football games.” We all knew what this meant. We could all pick up a hint without her saying it. We all knew that she felt hopeless for this team. That day we all got our heads screwed on right.
The first competition of the year is always the best. It takes place at Glenbrook South High School in November. It always seems to be one of our best performances, probably because it’s the first adrenaline rush of the season. We call it the “unveiling” of our routine because it is the first time the public sees the award winning routine that we would take to nationals. We are one of the few kick teams from Illinois that make it to Nationals and this year we would make history. We won first place at the GBS competition.
One of the key factors to success for this dance team is team bonding. We start team bonding activities immediately once we find out our team. Every spring tryouts run Tuesday through Friday and we find out the teams on that Friday night. That same night the Varsity team has their first team sleepover and they go out and T-P all the new JV members. We also went to Camp Manitoqua where we spent the day doing team building activities and overcoming some of our fears. We went rock climbing, zip lining, and did a high-ropes course. During the summer of that year we also went on a scavenger hunt around Park Ridge. Having a strong bond within our team was what led us to have such a successful season. It was an intangible bond but it was so strong and visible, it was almost tangible. Those girls weren’t only my teammates, but they were my best friends and my sisters. They became my second family, and sometimes I even spent more time with them than I did my own family. The bond that I developed with these girls could never be replaced and looking back at it, I have never regretted my decision to try out for this team.
The thick of our season comes in the winter, generally December through the first week of February. Sure, it is only about two months, but it is a long, jam-packed two months. Every day there is practice and every weekend there is a competition or basketball game, or sometimes a combination of all three. This is the most meaningful point in our season. Our friends call us hermits because we don’t go out very often; it is almost as if we’ve gone in hiding. We can’t risk anything at this time. We spend our weekends together, bonding, practicing, and preparing for upcoming competitions, but more importantly, Nationals, which is the first weekend in February.
The beginning of February 2011 was eventful for everyone. Tuesday, February 1, 2011 the storm began. A blizzard hit the Chicago land Area and it is known to be the third snowiest storm in Chicago’s history. It reached 20.2 inches in some areas. My school had closed for the following two days. Many businesses shut down for a couple days, planes were cancelled, and we were worried about getting to Nationals on that Thursday. Thankfully, our plane wasn’t cancelled or delayed, but our bus to the airport never showed up. Our parents had planned ahead of time and they volunteered to drive us to Midway Airport at 4 AM on a Thursday.
The transition of the bitter cold and two feet of snow to the 80 degree and sunny weather could only reflect my transition from sports to dance. When I hit the dance flor I knew I was where I belonged. It was comforting being out there with my team, and all. Sure I enjoyed playing in the snow, but once I hit the nice weather I never wanted to go back.
We were sort of the underdogs in the dance world. Within a matter of four years we had crept up to third place in the nation. Every year my team had attended NDTC (the National Dance Team Championship), Seminole High School, from Sanford, Florida, had held a consecutive, 4-year, national winning streak. When 2011 came along, they didn’t even know what to expect.
Saturday, February 5th was the day of Semi-Finals. This competition took place in the Indiana Jones Showplace in Hollywood Studios, one of Disney World’s parks. We competed our jazz routine around noon and about an hour later found out we made it to finals. That night was the Semi-Final competition for High Kick. We had to be in Hollywood Studios around 9 o’clock. The competition takes place outside; therefore, we had to stretch and warm-up outside. When it started drizzling all the teams went in the tent were the practice floor was. We, of course, stayed outside. What’s a little drizzle going to do? We got in our first formation to do a run through of our routine. Our song was called “Ofortuna” by Carl Orff. It was part of one of his greater pieces, Carmina Burana, a medieval literature piece. A common topic within this genre is fate and fortune, and may I tell you, fate and fortune was in our favor.
Anyways, our coached started the music. It’s not just any old song. This song penetrates electricity through the air with the energy it sends forth. I still remember gazing into the darkness as I felt the music enter my body. I would tell you the thoughts that ran through my head, but honesty, none did. While in the midst of our routine, low and behold, Seminole High School walked past. They set their stuff down across the parking lot from us. It was a dance off, and merely just a battle of the war that was about to break out.
I will never forget when we were stretching in the warm-up tent waiting for our turn on the practice floor, Seminole walked in like they owned the place. They had their heads held high and certainly got plenty of attention. Who do they think they are to walk around like that? Those snots can enjoy these last few moments of fame before I take that trophy from behind their backs. They needed lower their chins a bit and someone had to set them in their place. We were sure to take care of that.
The following day was Finals. The night before we had won first place at Semi-Finals and we couldn’t be more excited. Now we had to stay true to our title. When it was our time to take the floor, we all grabbed hands, lifted our chins, and marched out from the tunnel and onto that floor like we had already won it. We were only on the floor for the two minute routine, but it’s a two minutes that can’t be described. It’s like you pass out for the time. All I can remember is the lights blaring at me from above. I could see my parents and fans sitting on the floor in front of us, but I questioned if they were really there or if I was just imagining it. Everything else around me seemed black. I didn’t see anything and I didn’t hear anything. The season comes down to this moment. All the blood, sweat, and tears. Practice after practice, day after day, this is the moment that’s been building up for the past 10 months. This is was what the past 10 months of hard-work and dedication come down to. This was it. I remember hearing Jackie yell, “You got it girls!” and then the music went on and my body started to move. I had no control over my body, it just happened. Our routine had become muscle memory and my body just went with it. The next thing I know, I was walking off the floor in sweat and tears. It is a feeling that I don’t remember, but could never be forgotten.
That night we were crowned national champions. We never thought that the day would come. To us it was merely a dream. We would joke around saying, “We got 7th place, then 5th, and then 3rd, so naturally we should get first this year”. Or, “Silver medals wouldn’t match our gold costumes”. We even joked around about how our team was a wolf pack. Chief Jackie was the mother wolf and she had been training a litter of young at her dance studio, Studio 22 High Tek. She brought us together to form a band of brave brother wolves. Together, we partook in the great migration to the mighty city of Orlando: in search of gold medals, white jackets, and a 4-foot trophy. When we won we had become the Alpha wolves of the High Kick category. These were dreams we once thought impossible but together, any wolf pack can do it. And to this day, I am a proud brother wolf. I look back sometimes and wonder where I would be if I made that basketball shot in my backyard that day. I guess it was fate and fortune that had taken control of me, and of gravity that day, and guided me into the greatest experience of my life. They past three years I have spent on Hawkettes has been surreal. I have had some of the hardest challenges of my life, but all of which I have overcome. It has prepared me for any road bump I will encounter in my life. I have been trained, not only physically, but mentally in a way that can’t even be spoken about. Now I stand as a Varsity captain for my senior year on the team. I am inclined to lead this team into another legendary season and I refuse to let us do any worse than our best. I have risen to all my challenges in the past and I intend to rise to many more. Whether it is fate or fortune that guides me to success, I will always know that silver was no match for me. It was a whole different ballpark. Plus, it just didn’t match.