National honors boost dance team heading to stateMarch 6, 2018
By ALLEN LAMAN
FERDINAND — While the Forest Park High School boys basketball team sinks buzzer-beater shot after buzzer-beater shot on its impressive postseason run, another Ranger group is also lighting up scoreboards. Only the Forest Park High School dance team is conquering giants on a national level.
The Ranger dance team competed in the National Dance Association’s High School Nationals competition in Orlando, Florida, last weekend, where they placed among the top teams — who came to the contest from across the country — in each of their routines.
Forest Park’s team danced in the large varsity division. The team notched a national third-place finish for its high-kick routine, eighth place for its pom routine, and 11th place for the members’ hip-hop performance.
Though coach Denise Heilers didn’t know how many total teams competed in the large varsity division, six teams qualified for the division’s finals in the varsity high-kick competition, 20 teams qualified for the division’s pom finals and 14 made the division’s hip-hop finals. Forest Park competed in all three finals.
Not bad for a team that competed against schools whose student bodies are larger than the population of the town of Ferdinand.
“For a little bitty school from Indiana, what they accomplished is truly incredible,” Heilers said. “It just says a lot about their work ethic and the desire to put it out their on the floor every week.”
Teams in attendance had to qualify for the competition by sending in a video recording or participating in a National Dance Association camp.
Heilers said the level of the competition is “madly fierce,” and explained that Nationals draws in the best teams from the coasts and Middle America. While many of those schools have three separate teams of dancers for each of the division’s competitions, Forest Park’s lone squad of 18 girls competes in all three.
Monday, Ranger captains stressed their team’s season is not over just yet. Forest Park and Jasper High School will both compete at New Castle High School Saturday in the 22nd Annual Indiana High School Dance Team Association State Championship. Forest Park will compete in the single A division, while Jasper will compete in the AA division. (These are based on school enrollment size.)
Senior Forest Park captain Mady Day said success at the state level is crucial because it’s the team’s home base.
She and other veteran members of the Ranger team said their success on the national level was reassuring and uplifting.
“We didn’t realize how good we were until we saw some of these other teams who were just amazing,” said fellow captain Katelyn Tretter. “Just to be at that competitive level with them is just something we’re really proud of.”
They now have their eyes set on dominating Indiana’s single A division.
Last year, Forest Park’s team claimed state titles in the pom and hip-hop categories and earned the runner-up honor in the high-kick contest.
This time around, they want first in all three.
“Every single girl has the drive and ambition, and the skill level, too, to execute the routines, and it’s showing,” Day said of the state of the team. “We’re so excited to go to state this coming weekend and show Indiana what we’ve got. We’re in search, and we’re hungry for those state titles.”
Intense, lengthy practices are required to reach that level of competitiveness. The Ranger dance team practices four days a week for about 2 1/2 hours each day. The team begins meeting in the summer, takes the fall sports season off, and kicks it into full gear from October to March.
The team had already competed in five invitational contests and a regional competition prior to last weekend’s nationals.
Heilers said this is probably the strongest season the team has had heading into the state finals in a couple of years. With 15 total Indiana titles, the team has a history of excellence.
“Every year, schools from all over the state bring it as well,” Heilers said of the state contest. “We kind of go in with a bullseye on our back because people love to watch us perform, but they do want to beat us. If the girls leave everything on the floor during the routine, then regardless of placement, we always say we can walk away and say we gave it 100 percent and leave feeling happy about it.”
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