Skip to main content

The City Journals

The Rise And Redemption of Cottonwood’s Chaparral Drill Team

Oct 31, 2016 02:01PM ● By Sarah Almond

The 31 members of Cottonwood High School’s drill team have been training hard since April. Though drill is technically considered a winter sport, most teams practice and perform year round in order to stay in sync and in shape for the competition season that begins in early December. (Chad Braithwaite | Faces Photography)

By Sarah Almond | [email protected]

Murray, Utah - For the Cottonwood Chaparrals, Cottonwood High School’s drill team, this year is all about rising up from the ashes of adversity and fighting to rebuild a strong, talented team. 

“It hasn’t exactly been easy, but I’m very pleased,” said senior Sophie Ford, who has been leading the Chaparrals for two years. “We’ve got girls on the team now that are on the team who are willing to work hard. They are willing to take advice and use it in practices and performances. Everyone has great work ethic and really pushes themselves to a higher level.” 

Last season, the Chaparrals experienced some of the most tremendous challenges in team history. After just 10 girls showed up for tryouts in early April 2015, head coach Erin Burke decided to hold another tryout session in hopes of attracting more girls. Again, very few showed interest. 

This severe lack of participation caused the Cottonwood Athletic Department to question the existence and legitimacy of the team. 

“We were told that Cottonwood might need to pull drill for a couple years until we got enough girls on our team,” said head coach Erin Burke. “So we had one more chance to do tryouts and the school said ‘we need you to have a more than 20 girls to keep the team.’”

After tirelessly recruiting in the hallways, advertising throughout the school, and encouraging friends and classmates to join the team, the Chaparrals finally began their season with 26 girls. Despite the fact that most of the new dancers had little to no experience, it was enough to keep the team alive.  

“It was hard,” Ford said. “But we didn’t let it get us down. We kept fighting and stayed strong.”

It wasn’t long after they started practicing as a group that the Chaparrals were faced with yet another test: continuing through the season without the fierce leadership of their head coach. After experiencing complications with her pregnancy, Burke was forced to step down and leave the new team under the guidance of assistant coach Kelsea McGregor. 

“We had such a rough start last year,” Burke said. “But they surprised us. They went on to do so well during competition season and when we held tryouts in April of this year, we had 55 girls show up to tryout. We turned the program around and now we have a team of 31 amazing girls this year now.” 

After coaching at Cottonwood for four years, Burke finally feels like she got her program back. Along with several returning dancers, the Chaparrals welcomed 15 freshmen to the team this year.

“We wanted to give our younger girls a shot and a chance to be a part of our program and build them up,” Burke said. “So we took a ton of freshmen to kind of feed the program.”

The Chaparrals’ unwavering determination and hopeful perseverance hasn’t gone unnoticed. In June the team attended Basic Dance Training (BDT), a professional dance camp in Heber City, where they received an award for “Most Improved Team.” BDT also chose Burke and McGregor as the recipients for the “Coaches Award.“ 

“We don’t do this for the money,” Burke said. “The passion behind what we do is creating a safe, loving environment for these teenage girls and turning them into young women that can be successful in life outside of high school. And I feel like we have truly accomplished that this year.” 

With more than seven months of practice and hard work backing the young, established team, the Chaparrals are excited to show the community their resilience and display their talent for audiences at halftime shows and school assemblies.

“Our theme this year is ‘Rise Up,’” Burke said. “Everything we do we focus on rising above our past; rising above the limitations the girls set on themselves personally as dancers and just focusing on having a positive year. The girls have totally embodied that.”