Dance has a date at state

This week, the SJO Dance Team will undoubtedly be working harder than they have all season - happily, without a doubt - in preparation for their 10:33 performance at the IHSA Competitive Dance State Finals on Friday. The squad will compete against 29 other teams that advanced to the state semifinals from their respective sectionals on Saturday.

However, the squad was just a snowball's throw away from not having the opportunity to even compete against the other top small school dance teams from around the state.

SJO Dance Team performs during a home game
Members of the SJO Dance Team perform during a home game earlier this month. The Spartans head to state after finishing 5th at last weekend's IHSA sectional in Mascoutah. See more SJO dancers in action. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

With a major winter event predicted to roll through central Illinois that would make highway travel precarious and possibly dangerous, the Dance Team was notified on Friday that they would not be traveling to the Illinois High School Association's Mascoutah sectional on the following day. SJO, like many other area schools using the same weather forecast as a guide, canceled all of their planned activities anticipating nasty conditions.

"The predicted weather forecast was not looking favorable for our area, on top of the fact that we had a 3 hour drive to our sectional," head coach Emily Williams explained. A SJO dance alumna herself, she has been the team's head coach for the past nine years. "Our administration made a decision that it would not be a safe trip for our dancers and their families. They also called off all other SJO activities for the weekend."

Williams said she and school administrators met with the disappointed athletes and parents on Friday afternoon explaining the decision. She pointed out that administrators from five other area schools also canceled their travel plans to the sectional competition.

However, on Saturday morning the expected 6-to-8 inch of snowfall failed to materialize. Williams and several parents contacted St. Joseph-Ogden superintendent Brian Brooks to see if they could make the trip.

"(Mr. Brooks) checked every radar possible and went out and drove several roads around Saint Joe," Williams said. "The decision was made by our administration that we could go as long as we could get a hold of IHSA and make sure it was okay with them."

Athletic director Justin Franzen was then able to square things away with the IHSA to make sure the squad could still compete. Soon after the dance team and loyal fans were on the road headed toward southern Illinois.

The team competed against 12 schools for one of the top six spots to punch their ticket to state finals at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington. The Spartans' performance was fifth best of the day.

With a final score of 85.13, SJO finished by behind the sectional champions Villa Grove (88.67), Civic Memorial (87.60), Unity (86.57) and St. Anthony (85.67). Clinton filled the last state-finalist slot with a score of 85.10.

This will be the third to trip to state for the program since the IHSA began hosting them in 2013. The Spartans made it to state in both 2014 and 2016.

Williams hopes to see plenty of St. Joseph-Ogden family and friends filling seats in the arena and cheering for her girls. A fan bus is being organized by the school. She expects details to be available on the school website by Wednesday.

SJO dance team member performs during the Spartans' home game.
A SJO dance team member performs during the Spartans' home game against Villa Grove-Heritage earlier this month. The group hopes to see lots of fans at Grossinger Motors Arena cheering them on. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"Our dancers would love to see as many people in maroon, white, and Columbia Blue on Friday as possible," Williams said. "We have a great group of girls who are much more like a family than a team. They have worked very hard and are elated to have earned the chance to compete in the IHSA State prelims on Friday."

For now until Friday, the SJO Dance Team will be working to perfect their routine and fixed deficiencies noted by last weekend's panel of judges.

We will be practicing everyday and will break down our hip hop routine, piece by piece," Williams said. "We will go over our scoresheets from Saturday’s sectional and see what the judges said we can improve on."

Members expected to compete at Friday's state semifinal include Erin Beyers, Kalli Ingram, Haley Griebat, Rachel Gherna, Kaitlyn Hess, Ava Mills, Sara Milioli, Samantha Naylor, Isabelle Brooks, Kylie Duckett, Tessa Smith, Bella Getty, Ella Besson and Alessa Anzelmo.