On Sunday night, the West Ranch High School dance team could have been driving home through the Newhall Pass, tired and exhausted from another weekend of intense competition — but with their undefeated season complete.
Instead, they were at home. The 2020 WRHS dance team never got into the car, they would never get to walk into Long Beach Convention Center or put the period on an undefeated season that would have likely added another banner to the four they already hang as regional grand champions.
The COVID-19 pandemic had canceled their West Coast Elite Dance Nationals competition — which was supposed to take place March 21 and 22 — and the last time they would share the stage together.
In 2019, the Wildcat dance team, which is composed of 15 members, went to the Contest of Champions in Florida and out of 103 schools, from 15 states and two different countries, they came back with nine national titles.
“At the time the event was first cancelled, we did not understand the extent to which COVID-19 was spreading and affecting the world socially and economically,” said WRHS dance coach Tammie Johnston. “We were undefeated West Coast Elite Regional Grand Champions this year with high hopes of succeeding at nationals. Within seconds we felt our entire year come to a jolting halt, especially for my seniors.”
Johnston said the reality of the pandemic was quickly received by the team, but the emotion of not going to nationals, the “reason we train so hard,” sank in quickly.
“Practice stopped, the girls broke down in tears, so we circled up to talk, cry and share our feelings,” said Johnston.
The girls went on to leave campus behind, destined for months of online classes, much like all the other students in the Santa Clarita Valley are doing.
But the senior captains are not dwelling on opportunities lost, as they put it.
“I miss my teammates more than anyone,” said senior captain Isa Bayona. “(But) I am constantly reminding myself that this is so much more than canceled events and self-isolation. It’s keeping our loved ones healthy and being part of the solution to a growing problem.”
Fellow senior team captain Dominique Singer shared Bayona’s take on the dance team being one of the most important things in her life. She says it taught her dedication, perseverance and leadership, and gave her lifelong friends.
“The cancellation of competitions and games is temporary, but the legacy a team leaves behind will always last,” said Singer. “No one can take away what you have already achieved. Stay positive, stay humble and stay thankful for your health.”
Johnston’s message to her athletes as both a competitor and coach herself was to encourage other teams, former rivals, to celebrate their seasons “in every way possible.”
“We are blessed to be able to celebrate these experiences and memories for a lifetime,” said Johnston. “No one can take that from us, not even COVID-19.”