As the Umatilla High School cheer team flips and tumbles its way to the state competition this weekend, they are already proud of what they’ve done.

“For most of these kids, it’s their first year doing cheer,” said coach Randi Garrett. “And we’re first year coaches.”

The team of 16 — 10 girls and six boys — will compete at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland this weekend for a shot at the OSAA state title in the large school co-ed division. They’ll perform a two-and-a-half minute routine, featuring tumbling, dance, jumps, stunts and a cheer.

Though they keep a smile on their faces the whole time, cheerleaders said the sport is more strenuous than many think.

“It’s really challenging,” said Courtney Daniel, a sophomore in her first year as a cheerleader. “I don’t think people realize that. We have football players as our stuntmen, and even they agree — it’s different than anything they’ve done.”

The team got a boost from several football players who joined the team after their season ended. Demonstrating their routine for the rest of the school at an assembly Friday morning, both boys and girls cartwheeled and somersaulted on the mats before lifting three girls up in the air and tossing them, where they made a full revolution before coming down.

“The most challenging thing was learning the technique. I’ve never thrown girls in the air before,” said Darian Smith, a sophomore who joined as a stuntman after his football season ended.

Smith said he’s looking forward to coming back next year.

“It’s fun, and it’s a different kind of workout.”

Because most of the cheerleaders were new this year, they relied on assistance from other teams, as well as some self-teaching.

“Lots of YouTube,” said coach Cynthia Rodarte. “And other schools’ coaches would help us. We would record practices and send them to other cheer people to get critiques.”

The team meets at 5 a.m., to accommodate their other extracurricular activities.

They’ve made several changes to their routine, as recently as two days before the competition.

“I think we weren’t expecting to go to state. There was a lot of last-minute planning,” said senior Skyler Stokoe.

But students are eager to show their skills at the tournament, and to build on their young team.

“I’m very excited to see where we go,” Daniel said.

The assembly also honored senior Mayra Ortiz, who signed her letter of intent to play soccer at Columbia Basin College.

Ortiz, a central midfielder, plans to study physical therapy, and hopes to eventually transfer to a four-year university.

“I wasn’t sure at one point if I wanted to play,” she said. “But I started thinking about CBC after I visited a few classes there.”

Ortiz’s coach, Tim Lee, said he was excited to see her succeed at the college level.

“She’s been a four-year starter, and consistent year-in, year-out,” Lee said. “She was one of our leading scorers. Really, the team flowed from her.”

Irrigon’s team is also performing at the tournament in the 3A/2A/1A field.


Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or

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