Classics win big at State Spirit in Casper

The EHS Classics dance team won the Jazz Dance and Hip Hop Dance competitions at the 2023 State Spirit Competition last Wednesday in Casper. Members include: Addison Asay, Cashae Brooks, Ashleigh Clyne, Kya Coles, Rebecca Davis, Halli Davis, Kamrie Frongner, Aspyn Higdon, Jaeli Higdon, Hannah Liechty, Addisen Maestas, Kiya Medina-Cox, Marissa Parks, Julia Perez, Lucie Rex, Paola Reyes, Allie Sanchez-Mackey, Kylie Smith, Brynley Stewart and Cambree Young. (COURTESY PHOTO/Seth Romsa, Powell Tribune)

State Championships in 4A Jazz Dance, 3A Hip Hop

As the Evanston High School Classics dance team sat on the floor in the middle of the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper last Wednesday, anxiously awaiting results in the 4A Jazz Dance category at the 2023 State Spirit Competition and holding hands in nervous excitement, the team began to realize they may have accomplished something special.

“We’re sitting there, waiting for awards, and as the awards are being read off and the second-place team is announced for Jazz, we knew the reaction from the crowd when we performed that we were probably a top contender for that first-place spot,” said first-year head coach Candice Spivey. “I told the girls going in, ‘At the end of the day, there are no tears — I don’t care if it’s a second place, a first place, wherever we finish — there’s no tears.’”

It would prove to be a tough promise to keep.

“When they called our name — when they called Evanston as the state championship team for Jazz — I can’t even explain the emotion,” Spivey said, laughing. “These girls were jumping up and down, screaming, crying. And then they’re looking at each other, like they’re not supposed to be crying, and we had to give them the nod, like, ‘This is OK, you can be excited about this.’”

The scene would be repeated a short time later, as the Classics were crowned state champions in the 3A Hip Hop category, as well, returning to Evanston with a pair of state titles. The championships were the first for the Classics since winning 4A Jazz Dance in 2016.

“I’m just super-impressed with my team, and how they handled themselves with the stress of competition,” Spivey said. “They had been traveling the week before for Nationals — they were tired and exhausted. That morning, we had a team breakfast, and it was amazing to see how calm and confident they were going in. It really helped to ease my nerves as a coach. They were super-positive and happy the whole day, and it clearly showed on the floor.”

Senior captain Kamrie Frongner echoed Spivey’s sentiment.

“As soon as they announced second place we were all ready to stand up because we knew that we had won a state title,” she said. “The first time they announced our names as state champs it felt unreal — we had worked so incredibly hard for that moment. And then they announced us state champs again, and we could not be happier. I am so proud of my team, and all that we were able to accomplish.”

The long road to Casper

The journey to the 2023 State Spirit Competition began last May, with a new coach and spring auditions.

“When I first met the team at auditions, I knew how crazy-talented they were,” Spivey said. “It’s insane, the talent we have here in our small, little community. The thing is, I don’t think the girls realized their fullest potential, and what they were capable of, and that’s one thing we worked on from the get-go — just the confidence, for them to believe in themselves. I thought we would have a great year — I was really hopeful going into state that we would take at least one championship home. The fact that we took two was just so surreal.”

The Classics spent nearly a year working on their routines, performing at football and basketball games, as well as placing second at a drill team competition in Utah, while practicing five days a week.

“Our season ended up being 11 months,” Spivey said. “What those 11 months entailed was Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., every day. We go during Christmas break, and I think it’s important for the community to know that not only do these girls dance, but they’re involved in a number of sports and activities, choir, 4-H club, DECA, you name it. On top of that, our cumulative GPA is like a 3.8, so they’re incredibly smart.”

The culminating event for the Classics each season is the WHSAA State Spirit Competition, originally scheduled this year for January 27 at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper. Mother Nature had other plans, however, and — despite most of the teams already hunkered down in Casper — the event was postponed until March 8. It was a crushing blow for the Classics, who had their routines dialed in.

“Going into state the first time around, I felt like we were 100% prepared,” Spivey said. “Physically, mentally, emotionally — we were there, we were ready to compete, we were feeling good. To wake up that morning and be told, ‘Load the bus, you’re coming home,’ — it was a huge shock.”

Practice the following week was a gut-check moment, though Spivey credits her team with stepping up to the challenge.

“When we walked into practice that next Monday, it was probably the toughest practice to experience,” she said. “Everyone was exhausted. These girls had been going for 10 months, and their state competition was just pushed back 40 days. We really had to dig deep, and find that grit and kind of switch our mindsets. Looking back now, I’m grateful that it happened — we were even more prepared, going in the second time. The second time really solidified where we were as a team.”

An added wrinkle was the realization that the March 8th date would arrive at the tail-end of the Classics’ Nationals trip, with very little time to decompress between the two events.

“Our Nationals trip, we didn’t get home until midnight on March 7, the morning of the 8,” Spivey explained. “The panic started to set in a little bit, about how we were going to make everything that we had worked so hard for all pan out. At that point, I had the switch of a mental letdown — it was the girls really picking up the energy. We worked all year long on our mindset, and they picked up on those vibes.”

Once at the Ford Wyoming Center, it was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait — the team kept themselves focused on the task at hand, mixing in a little fun, as well.

“There was a lot of sitting around for us — our floor-marking time was at 11, and we didn’t compete until 5 p.m.,” Spivey said. “So it was really just keeping each other upbeat and not laying around. There were a lot of games being played, and a lot of fun memories that were being shared, a lot of pictures.”

“I had never been to a Wyoming State Spirit Competition before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Spivey added. “It was fun to see my team kind of carry me throughout the day, and tell me, ‘OK, we need to be here at this time, we need to go to this spot at this time.’ So that was really fun, having them introduce me to that.”

Enjoying the moment

Going into Nationals, the jury was still out on the Classics’ Jazz Dance routine — it seemed to have a polarizing effect on those who had seen an early incarnation of it.

“When we first showcased our state Jazz routine, we had a lot of different feedback — people either loved it, or hated it,” Spivey explained. “That was one we really worked hard to perfect for state. Competing at Nationals, we got a lot of great feedback from our judges on that routine, and it was just enough to fuel us to go on to state and perfect that routine. Nothing was missing — we left everything out on the floor.”

When the dust finally settled at the Ford Wyoming Center, the Classics were state champions twice over — and a proud community was waiting back home to welcome them.

“The bus ride home was an experience,” Spivey said, laughing. “There would be times where we would be driving in the middle of nowhere, and the girls would scream out, ‘We’re State Champs!’ The whole bus would cheer. And then pulling into town — to see the amount of support that was out there, being led in by emergency personnel, greeted by our families as we pulled into the high school, the band playing the fight song as we walked in, the student body lining the halls — it was the most incredible day of my life. It was unbelievable to watch.”

Co-captain Allie Sanchez-Mackey agreed.

“Returning home as champions, having the fire trucks and emergency responders leading us into town with their sirens and having everyone cheering us on in the school just felt amazing,” she said. “After 11 months of blood, sweat, tears and hundreds of hours of practicing, these two state titles, and having the community be so excited for us, were the most rewarding feelings I’ve honestly ever felt.”

Co-captain Jaeli Higdon said the team was confident going into the competition, though it’s just now starting to sink in how much the hard work has paid off.

“I’m so proud of our perseverance through all of our obstacles this year,” she said. “It feels great to know that — no matter what — we are able to push ourselves and overcome whatever comes in our way to achieve anything.”

Spivey was quick to heap praise on other members of the community who helped make this season possible — Lisa Hansen, Daron Shelton and Lexie Frongner, to name just a few.

“We brought in a lot of different people in the community to help out, to help us perfect routines, to take a look at things,” Spivey said. “Not only are the girls learning from me, they’re learning from previous dance teachers, previous coaches. They have to accept the different teaching styles. Their resilience, their persistence, their grit — it’s incredible to see. I’m extremely proud, because not only are they great dancers, they’re terrific humans — they’re smart, they’re beautiful, they’re strong, they’re incredible. I can’t say enough about them.”

As for the legacy this team will leave behind, Sanchez-Mackey said it’s her hope the team’s success will inspire a younger generation of dancers.

“I remember being a younger dancer, and watching all of the Classics dances at football and basketball games,” she said. “I also remember telling my mom how much I wanted to be a Classic, and how hard I had worked to get to where I am. I hope that anyone that wants to become a Classic will work hard and believe in themselves. I hope that we can leave a legacy that is forever remembered.”