Poms teams across the state took their activity to a new level on Saturday, when they participated in the first round of the state series in competitive dance, sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association.
"It's a lot more serious and competitive, now that we're recognized as a sport," said senior Kelly Dunne, co-captain of the St. Viator poms team that was one of six teams to advance at the sectional at Palatine High School, with their lyrical routine.
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After more than 18 months of planning and surveying IHSA member schools on their interest in a state dance final, five sectionals took place on Saturday, with the top six teams in each class advancing.
The state championships open Friday with the preliminary round at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, followed by the finals on Saturday.
IHSA's version of competitive dance debuted with an "open routine" format, with teams choosing their style of dance to take to the floor, and going up against all of the other genres, from hip hop, jazz and kick, to traditional poms dance.
"We had our fingers crossed, since we didn't know what the judges would be looking for," said Sue Kawecki, coach of the Maine East Demon Squad, that also advanced at the Palatine sectional, with a kick routine.
Judges evaluated the teams on the same rubric, with 20 points given equally to technique, synchronization and musicality, choreography, formations and transitions, and overall effect.
"It's groundbreaking," added Kelly Clifton-Zajak, St. Viator coach. "I've been to hundreds of dance competitions, and it's never been done before, where one genre competes another."
Stevenson High School earned the highest score of area schools, with a 97.53 out of 100 possible points, of Class 3A schools at the Grayslake North sectional. Warren Township came in second, followed by Larkin, Jacobs, Libertyville and Mundelein.
Among 2A schools, Lake Forest earned the highest score with a 94, followed by Vernon Hills, Crystal Lake Central, Lakes, Grayslake North and Crystal Lake South high schools, all advancing.
Of the smaller schools competing in Class 1A, Lisle came in first, followed by Johnsburg, Woodstock and Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst.
Palatine High School hosted the biggest sectional of the day. Beyond Maine East and St. Viator in Class 2A, Fenton, Deerfield, Batavia and Rolling Meadows high schools all advanced.
Larger schools in Class 3A were led by Maine South, followed by Glenbrook South and Buffalo Grove, which all advanced. Even larger schools competed in Class 3A-2. St. Charles North led them by finishing first, followed by Downers Grove South, South Elgin, Fremd, Lake Park and Downers Grove North, who all qualified for state.
Among West suburban schools, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, Naperville Central and Naperville North all qualified at the sectional at Andrew High School in Tinley Park. Hinsdale South, Nazareth Academy and Aurora Central Catholic high schools also advanced among smaller schools.