Saturday, December 17, 2005

Always Smiling...Well, Almost Always

Imagine...the quarterback drops back into the pocket...he looks left...nothing. Then he looks right...he spots one of his trusted receivers slipping behind the secondary. He draws the ball back...ready to spring. As the camera zooms in tight, we see a big flashy smile. Reality? Of course not...he's focused...eyes fixed on his intended target...this is no time to be smiling.

As the athletes on the field maintain their disciplined composure...thier "game face" is stalwart...composed...focused. In contrast, the game face of the athletes on the sideline includes a perpetual smile during every one of their "plays"...during pressure situations, through the toughest of elements and even when the score looks hopeless. These are the cheerleaders. While we wouldn't expect football players to be smiling as a part of their athletic's a major element of the cheer team's game.

With championship titles, scholarships and prestige on the line, it is no secret that cheerleading is no longer strictly about rhythmic chants, but is heavily swayed towards athleticism. And throughout every routine, no matter if it's 40 degrees and raining or the team is performing a routine with a high degree of difficulty, the smile is present. It's's's a trademark.

During the OSAA State Football Playoffs and Championships, a wide variety of cheer teams supported their teams. Mohawk High, from the small Western Oregon town of Marcola had three cheer team members...while 4A Lincoln High School of Portland sported a squad of about 20. No matter what the size of the squad or the level of skill, the common denominator is an ever-present smile...through every routine...without regard of the elements.

Of course, the smiles often give way to tears when a playoff loss shatters the dream of a championship. But it's only a brief interruption, as pride of an accomplished season soon has the team thinking about getting ready for the next season to follow.

250 Miles, 18 Wins, 127 Goals, 1 State Title

Living on the eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon has many benefits that the urban centers on the western side of the state struggle to compete with....strong community bonds, a beautiful environment and a more manageable pace of life are just a few of the treasures of Eastern Oregon living. However, for high school athletes there are a few challenges. One of the most grueling is that athletes spend a lot of time on buses traveling to and from competitions. It is not uncommon for a school to have to travel over 100 miles for a normally scheduled game. So when McLaughlin Union High School from the north-eastern Oregon town of Milton-Freewater packed their undefeated soccer team, along with over 200 fans, on buses and traveled 250 miles to the Portland metro area for the OSAA 3A Soccer State Championship, it was not just another bus ride.

McLaughlin dominated their opponents during season play, with 14 wins and 114 goals...a majority of those goals were scored by Marcos Betancourt and Victor Corona. After including their playoff matches, the Pioneers tallied 18 wins with 127 goals-for and only 9 goals-against. During McLaughlin's state final match, the dangerous duo struck for a goal each as the Pioneers shocked LaSalle High School, located in the Portland area, to win the state title in an exciting 2-1 victory. Betancourt converted a first-half penalty and Corona struck a sizzling 25 yard free kick with the outside of his right foot which beat LaSalle keeper Clarke Henarie in the upper-right corner.

The 250 mile bus ride back to the open range country of Eastern Oregon was likely the most pleasurable 7 hour trip the McLaughlin Pioneers ever experienced, for this was the school's first state soccer title. The Pioneers no longer have to live in the shadow of the more prominent 3A schools on the western side of Oregon. In fact, as the new soccer dawn rises from the East, it's the urban schools that are now in McLaughlin's shadow.