Liberty drill team prepares for March 27 state meet

March 11, 2009

By Jim Feehan

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NEW — 6 a.m. March 11, 2009

The Liberty High School Drill team is going through its routines with military-like precision. On a late afternoon in February, the team rehearses in the commons at nearby Maywood Middle School.

The team is the proverbial stepchild when it comes time to reserving time at Liberty’s gym. So, the nomadic band of performers practices at Maywood, Briarwood and Maple Hills elementary schools.

“Because drill and pom are not considered a sport, it’s an activity, we have no priority on gym time,” said Laura Gawler, the first-year coach of the team. “We’re even behind select basketball teams.”

The Liberty High School Drill Team at a recent practice. — By Jim Feehan

The Liberty High School Drill Team at a recent practice. — By Jim Feehan

She shouts out “Think about the small things. Be light on your feet and tight. Be a dancer. Chin up and smile.”

Loud and proud, Gawler will have you know that the team will be a force to reckon with at the state meet March 27 at the Yakima Sundome.

“Five, six, seven, eight,” she shouts as the team goes through a new routine. “Sell it with your eyes as much as with your actions.”

Girl power

Drill team is a place for girls to focus on the positive aspects of being a teenage girl. In high school, there is so much peer pressure to be whatever is acceptable at the time. Drill team members are held to a higher standard because they are ambassadors to the Liberty community.

In addition, girls are not allowed to be in anyplace where alcohol or drugs can be found. If a girl is at a party and even one person opens a beer, she either has to leave or risk being suspended or expelled from the team, Gawler said.

“This is non-negotiable,” she stressed.

Each girl has 14 other teammates and a coach who they know they can depend on for support and advice, she said

“Drill offers girls a place to belong and be rewarded for being good,” she said.

Team members are held to a higher standard for academics than sporting teams at Liberty – 2.5 grade point average versus a 2.0 for sporting teams.

“I’m very happy to say that none of my team are anywhere near the academic probation level, as they take their schoolwork very seriously,” Gawler said. “We have several girls who are honor students.”

Drill is expensive

Each girl pays roughly $1,000 for uniforms, accessories and travel expenses each year. This is on top of the thousands of dollars they earn through fundraisers throughout the year. One of Gawler’s goals is to establish scholarship funds for parents who may not be able to afford the cost.

“I don’t want drill to be an activity for only the wealthier girls,” she said.

Eleven months ago, Gawler’s niece, Kate Borgnes, a junior on the drill team, half-jokingly asked her aunt if she would be interested in coaching the drill team.

“She was a drill captain in high school and we said it would be fun to have her as coach,” Borgnes said. “Then, everything fell into place.”

Borgnes said she doesn’t get any preferential treatment with her aunt, who participated in drill at Interlake High School in the early 1980s and is a humanities teacher at Beaver Lake Middle School.

“We’re all happy she’s here,” Borgnes said. “Drill gives me a place to fit in.”

Brittany Weaver, a senior and four-year member of the team, serves as captain. She’s all too familiar with the 12-month regimen that begins with new member tryouts in April, two-hour practices, three days per week learning routines for summer camp and training 10 hours a day with choreographers at a July camp at the University of Puget Sound.

That’s all before school starts in September, where the team performs at football halftime events, followed by more practices leading up to district and state competition.

“I’m ending my career on a good note,” Weaver said. “I just want to leave a good legacy behind by setting a good example.”

In pursuit of perfection

Stephanie Jones, a sophomore and two-year veteran of the team, said drill is often misunderstood.

“People think we’re cheerleaders and that we’re a bunch of plastic Barbies,” she said. “Well, I’m here to say that’s certainly not the case.”

Team members have twisted ankles, pulled muscles and absorbed countless bruises in pursuit of perfecting their routines.

“Five, six, seven, eight. And one and two and three and four,” Gawler repeats with the gusto of a Marine sergeant.

Her pay is about $3,000 annually. The payoff comes in getting the opportunity to work with amazing young women who are in the beginning stages of figuring out who they want to be in the world, she said.

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