Viking spirit perseveres during school closure with virtual try-outs

With social distancing orders in place, many extracurricular activities require coaches and directors to take a different approach to creating a team for the 2020-2021 school year. 

For the color guard, the try-out process included a detailed application, teacher recommendations, and a virtual interview. The directors acknowledge the difficulty in relying on this method of tryouts because so many of the skills needed to learn color guard are best learned in person. 

“When students try-out for color guard under normal circumstances, it’s still very difficult to determine their potential after only 8 hours of experience,” color guard director Marie Debellis said. “A lot of how we determine who should be on the team is based on how they approach learning and their attitude towards a challenge.”

Though the process limits the skills directors are able to see the student complete, it did still allow them some insight into how the student would do in the program.

“We can still get an idea on these things by doing it the way we have to this year,” Debellis said. “The definite advantage for the new students is them not having to go through the anxiety, nervousness of the physical audition process. The difficulty is that physical coordination is needed for what we do, and there is no way to determine if a student will be successful in developing that in color guard without time and experience.”

While virtual try-outs are not ideal, junior Alana Stephenson tries to look on the bright side and focus, but understands there are some things that cannot be replicated virtually.

“The virtual tryouts have resulted in a remarkable increase in possible color guard candidates,” Alana said. “I believe it is because it does not require face-to-face communication to sign up. Speaking from experience, it’s terrifying to try something new with total strangers. The downside of virtual tryouts is that I’m not physically with the candidates to encourage them. I’m not able to physically demonstrate the basic skills of color guard.”

The team turned to the virtual try-outs as a way to keep moving forward after the quarantine cancelled the WGI World Championships at the end of March where the team was ranked 2nd nationally and 1st in the state.

“It hit all of us pretty hard and it was very sad. Luckily, our shortened season was amazing, and super successful,” Debellis said. “We also worked really hard this year with our fundraising efforts and raised over $12,000 for this trip. Because we already raised all of this money, we hope to be able to still use it and go to Dayton in 2021.”

This season was one of the most successful seasons for the Bryan High winter guard. The team was slated to place 2nd at the World Championships in Ohio out of 2,000 other teams. 

“It’s devastating to see a victory that was so close be taken away, especially with the prospect of winning,” Alena said. “Although this is a tough situation, we are doing our best to look at the future and prepare our team for a successful season. A lot of our older members have been able to help out our underclassmen by practicing with them virtually, and there are a ton of virtual camps available to us from the color guard community. We are using this ‘break’ as a chance to improve.”

Cheer is another program undergoing virtual tryouts in 2020, and students will be entering their pieces through videos they filmed themselves.

“Virtual tryouts haven’t changed the tryout process too much,” cheer coach Sydney Bemrick said. “Usually candidates learn from senior cheerleaders, but with a virtual tryout they will learn from a video. The only other major difference is, rather than trying out in front of judges, the candidates filmed themselves performing the tryout material, and we sent the videos to the judges who scored the videos.” 

Bemrick found it necessary to provide opportunities for those who wanted to participate in the program by holding online try-outs.

“I decided to host cheer try-outs virtually because the program couldn’t afford to wait until the following school year to potentially host tryouts,” Bemrick said. “We host summer camps for elementary and middle school aged kids, the BHS Cheer program goes to a National Cheer Association camp, and we help the school with Fish Camp, Convocation ,Viking Bash, among other things.”

While Bemrick sees technology as revolutionizing how a lot of programs are able to accomplish tasks, she recognizes the difficulties having the program be limited to a digital platform as well.

“The disadvantage of a virtual tryout is not seeing how the candidates do under pressure,” Bemrick said. “With a video, the candidates can re-record until it is perfect. With an in-person tryout, the candidates get one shot to give it their all, mirroring a true performance.”

Bemrick called on current captains, seniors Emily Robertson and Phoebe Hancock, to help with try-outs by creating videos to help coach the girls through the audition process while also holding Google Hangout events to help the girls.

“This pandemic has completely flipped our tryouts around,” Phoebe said. “Usually the seniors get to spend one-on-one time with the girls in order to ensure that those who have never done cheer before and anyone who simply needed help are not lost or confused. Cheer tryouts can be intimidating for those who don’t know much about cheer, but we have always encouraged them and spent extra time with them in our face-to-face tryouts.” 

Covid-19 has caused people to see the world in a whole new way, and the lockdown has many people like junior Abby Mendez wanting to get back to their everyday lives.

“On one hand, I know that during the school year, if given the chance, I would gladly stay home all day and do nothing,” Abby said. “Now though, I would do anything to go back to school and to be with my friends and my team.”

While the virtual try-outs hit a lot of the key aspects from the in-person try-outs, it’s still missing the component of human connection that’s hard to match on a digital website.

“It’s really difficult knowing that this is my last cheer tryout and I don’t get to experience it with my teammates or the seniors,” Abby said. “As difficult as it is doing tryouts this way, I am grateful that we are still having tryouts at all, and I know my coaches worked hard to make changes so we had this opportunity.”

Despite the fact that there are some issues with the digital try-outs, they are still better than nothing and allows students to truly step up and figure the system out.

“I think this will be a really good learning opportunity for a lot of people,” Abby said. “Making the change to online school has been difficult, but it introduces us to new ways of learning and it forces us to take a little more responsibility for our work and our grades since our teachers are not here to help us. I have also noticed a lot more people starting to appreciate school since we have been out. Even if it’s not our favorite place to be, it is still a big part of our lives.”

Some cheerleaders recognize the benefits of virtual tryouts by avoiding the nerves of auditioning in front of a crowd.

“Virtual tryouts for cheer actually made the process a little bit easier and less stressful for me,” sophomore Corrine Mayerhoff said. “When videoing my material, I could retake them and make sure I looked my best and I could clearly see what needed to change and if I was doing the right thing.” 

The Shy-Annes director, Taylor Torres, and the BHS administrative team worked together to also give the drill team something normal in the midst of chaos by holding try-outs at the normal time of year. 

“The biggest advantage of holding auditions this way is that the girls had the opportunity to truly perfect their performance,” Torres said. “They could record their videos as many times as they wanted before submitting them for judging. On the other hand, the biggest disadvantage was that the girls had to learn everything on their own. We had several kids audition that had no prior dance experience and they had to learn all of the material from videos without much help from anyone else.”

The videos and online learning hasn’t stopped the team from building up their skills and competing in the try-outs.

“The girls are continuing to work hard and rehearse their craft,” Torres said. “They know of the expectations that I have for them and of the expectations that they have for themselves so while I do not know when we will go back to our normal, I know that our team won’t skip a beat on the ride there.”

COVID-19 has been something everyone has had to overcome, and many of Bryan High’s extracurricular activities responded well by creating an online try-out program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our program in a number of different ways, instead of focusing on the negatives, I try to focus on the positives,” Torres said. “These unfortunate times have helped us see how strong we are. We have all had to go outside of our comfort zones and experiment with a number of different ways to go about our normal day to day routines.”