It has been said the best things in life are worth waiting for, fighting for and believing in. This proved to be true for the Lee’s Summit High School Dance Team.
On Feb. 23, the Class 5A Division team took first place in the Missouri State Dance Competition, receiving the highest all-around cumulative score of all Class 5A teams competing. It was also the first-time the Tigerettes brought home gold in 23 years.
Certainly celebration-worthy for the entire Lee’s Summit High School community, this victory was made even sweeter by challenges the team faced and overcame on the year-long road to State.
Even head coach Jennifer Blankenship encountered some unanticipated events on this journey.
Before October, Blankenship had been the team’s assistant coach for a little over two years. After an unforeseen departure of the head coach well into second semester last fall, Blankenship found herself in that role.
“Though the team had learned our choreography for the competition last summer, I still had a steep learning curve,” she said.
Blankenship and her sister, Kaitlin Rader, who had already been an assistant coach for the team for four years, worked together with the dancers for upcoming competitions.
The two sisters, who both graduated from Lee’s Summit High School, have been competitive dance instructors and dance studio owners, and bring this experience to coaching.
Working with the 23-member team also brought challenges. While every team member is accomplished, each high-schooler is also very busy.
“We have a very academic team highly invested in their studies,” Blankenship said. “Our cumulative GPA is very high, and several girls are in the top 5 or 10 percent of their classes. Most are in honors or college-level classes.
“The sophomores, who are ranked one and two in their class, are both on my team.”
Blankenship says the majority of team members are also competitive studio dancers.
“We’re very proud of the work they’re doing,” she said. “But, we have to work around that and take it into consideration when scheduling practices.”
Junior Eghosa Ogbevoen, who has been on the team for two years, found her intense schedule to be both challenging and rewarding.
“Staying motivated through the last two weeks of the season was hard, but it felt like all the work we put in, all the challenging practices and all our passion has paid off,” she said.
The Tigerettes also traveled to Orlando in early February to compete in the Universal Dance Association's national competition for high school dance teams. It was the second time the team competed in this event, and they placed ninth in jazz and 12th in pom in the large-varsity division.
Blankenship says the team’s collaboration and hard work throughout the year, and in these events, has not only led to a state championship, but has created deep bonds between the members.
“I think that by being in a close-knit group like this, the girls are now able to set higher goals for themselves because they are surrounded by other students setting their sights on greater heights,” she said.
“They have friends to bounce ideas off of and a great, wholesome core group that are all like-minded.”
Senior Cassie Workman has found those friends and long-term relationships as a team member during the past three years.
“The relationships and memories that you make has definitely been the most rewarding element of participation,” said Workman, who is also team captain.
“It also means so much to win the state championship. It’s my senior year, so it was a great ending and so rewarding to see how far we’ve gotten since my first year.”