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Ginger Rode loved seeing the looks on her cheer team’s faces when Englewood High School beat five other schools to take the Colorado 7 League title. But even before this season started, parents were thanking her for leading the team so well — and Rode intends to keep pushing her labor of love as far as the Pirates can go.
“I want them to enjoy cheerleading as much as I did,” said Rode, a former high school and college cheerleader.
Rode knew the Pirates had potential before she started as a new coach last season, and now they’re in the midst of a turnaround that could propel them to state finals, team members hope.
“My husband (Thomas) is the head girls’ basketball coach, and I’d be at all the games, and I just kept looking at the cheer squad and just wanting to help them improve,” said Rode, who would see sporadic participation in the cheer team. “I’d be at the next game, and no one would show up. And then the next game, there would be five cheerleaders.”
When the opening came up, Rode applied and became coach in March 2016. She’s a math teacher of 17 years at Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice by day, and at night, she comes to EHS to run practice — and she does it hands-on. She spots details like cheerleaders holding arms just slightly off-kilter during routines, catches team members as they collapse from a pyramid and stretches with the team after practice.
“I push them, but they have to respond to it,” Rode said. “Part of their (success) is their response.” After placing 12th in state last year because of an illegal stunt — they would have been fifth otherwise — they saw how good they could be, Rode said.
Drew Martinez, who transferred to EHS from Littleton High School and was on its cheer team, said Englewood’s team is more like a family.
“We’re just all connected — when we’re in stunts, we know when something’s not gonna go right,” said Martinez, a senior who won award for cheerleader of the year in his league. The team members are friends outside of practice, too, Martinez said.
Rode is encouraging and understanding, but also pushes the team hard, said Julissa Chavez, a senior.
“We’ll doubt ourselves, but she’ll push us to the point where we got this,” Chavez said. Chavez also referenced that the state competition is set for Dec. 8, followed by the state finals on Dec. 9, if the team makes it.
“Which we will,” Martinez interjected, with confidence.
Rode’s and Martinez’s awards, which were announced at the league competition Nov. 2, only put more wind in their sails. Last year, EHS athletic director Nate Smith gave Rode the award for EHS coach of the year, and Rode felt pressure to be as good if not better than last year, she said.
Asked what she reminds herself of to be an effective coach, Rode said she has to “remember to breathe.”
“I am too much of a perfectionist,” said Rode, who also worked as a cheerleading instructor for Elite Cheerleading, a private cheer camp organization, during her summers in college. She’s also been a coordinator for gymnastics, cheer and dance for elementary-aged kids in Douglas County.
Remembering that a team has to work its way up helps too, Rode said.
“My high school coach was stern, strict, fun. That is what I wanted to take into (account) because we were good in high school,” said Rode, who went to high school in Effingham, Illinois. “Disciplined, yet knew how to have fun as well.”
That’s apparent in practice — the Pirates are orderly, but also enthusiastic. Martinez said Rode is a part of the family feeling on the team.
“I’m really proud of my squad,” Rode said.
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