Pandemic cuts short Clinton Blaze dance season, but not morale

For three years, the Clinton Blaze dance team has provided elementary school student-athletes and performers the opportunity to perform.

The dance team, which is composed of students from the three Clinton City Schools elementary schools, Clinton, North Clinton and South Clinton, has been a fixture at Blaze and Lady Blaze basketball games for the past three seasons.

But this season, the COVID-19 pandemic put a monkey wrench into the dance team’s plans as the team’s campaign was virtually cut in half when the state implemented restrictions on game attendance and barred cheerleaders, dancers, pep bands and bands from performing at scholastic sporting events, and limited fans.

Those rules were set in place by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, and while the Blaze are not governed by the TSSAA, Clinton implemented the same regulations, and the Blaze and Lady Blaze basketball season, which usually begins in October, started approximately a month later than normally.

“We’re pretty much in the same boat (as the high schools),” said Blaze Cheer Coach Rebecca Sharp. “It was disappointing, but we got to have about half of our season. It was disappointing for our sixth-graders.

“But our fifth-graders will get the chance to come back and be with us next year. We got the chance to dance in November and early-December. Usually, our basketball season begins in October. We did as much as we could.”

Elementary basketball usually ends prior to Winter Break, but this season went well into January with limited fans and no dance team.

Sharp is in her third year with the team. She is the only coach the dance team has ever had. But like any coach, she loves to see her students move on to the next level — but she also relishes giving performers a chance to dance even if it’s only during elementary school.

“We have some of our dancers that have gone on to dance and cheer at Clinton Middle School,” Sharp said. “But we also have some kids that this may be the only time that they get to or want to do this.”

Sharp also said that she has dancers with various levels of experience on her squad.

“We have some kids who have performed and danced at dance studios, and we have other kids who have never danced before and never done anything like this,” she said. “When you perform in elementary school, you don’t have pressure.”

The opportunity to dance for the Blaze is unique for three reasons.

It gives the dancers a chance to perform for an elementary school team. In normal times, the squad gets to dance in front of standing-room-only crowds and it also combines students from three schools.

“The thing that is really neat about this is that you have kids from three schools, so these kids have the chance to see and meet people that they may not get to meet,” Sharp said.

Sharp didn’t make cuts this year and she now has an assistant coach in Joan Altobelli, who she said has been “great for the program.”

The pandemic not only cost the dance team half of its season, it also scrapped the squad’s usual performance when the Blaze joins Clinton Middle and Clinton High School.

“We didn’t get to do that this year,” Sharp said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do it again next year.”

The coach also noted that she was grateful to CCS Athletics Director E.T. Stamey and Director of Schools Kelly Johnson for their support.

“E.T. and Kelly have been great. They always see that we get what we need,” Sharp said.

The 2020-21 dance team members are: Grace Wilson, Maggie Turbiville, McKenzie Sharp, Sean Fuhr, Marie Bautista, Neveah Fuller, Amilia Grainger, Kaylin Phillips, Lilly Marvin, Ariana Duncan, Bella Hobbs-Swenson, Lisa Dawson, Abigail Bennett, Layla Feinstein, Charlie Riggs, Miranda Childs, Reece Hollifield, Jailah Fritts, Anime Fox, Addi Herrell, Angel Wagner, Maleah Breeden, Peyton Skaggs, Addyson Kidwell and Maisen Sharp.