Dale Ford, Sultana High School's cheerleading coach, has had more than his share of success. Altogether, Ford's previous teams have won six state cheerleading championships and Sultana cheer is regarded as one of the best programs in the Victor Valley.


But Sultana's first and only head cheer coach and his squad wanted this year - Ford's final seaon in teal, black and white - to be even more special. Making that dream become a reality, however, wasn't easy.


The first scheduled state championship event was cancelled, so another was scheduled. But it too was cancelled. Finally, Ford decided to enter his team into the Sharp International at Magic Mountain, a competition on Feb. 15 where the best teams from all over the western region gather.


Adding to the stress, however, Ford and his wife were earlier involved in a traffic accident in which his wife suffered broken bones.


Although the cheerleading team had landed a platform to showcase their talents, they had only two weeks to prepare.


"We were nervous," Andrea Sweeney, one of the squad's co-captains said about the competition. "Finally a week before competition, it came together."


In fact, the team was so ready that many of the cheerleaders felt relatively relaxed on stage. After they nailed their routines, the team members screamed with delight and satisfaction.


The result was spectacular: Sultana High School's 2008-09 varsity cheerleading squad was named the West Coast Cheerleading Champions.


"We did it with a lot of hard work and dedication," said co-captain Jessica Gandara. "We wanted that first place really badly."


Ford to move on


Soon, Ford will become the first cheerleading coach at Oak Hills High, which opens next August. But today he is relishing Sultana's award-winning season and a satisfying 13 years in teal, black and white.


"Our goal was to have a first class cheerleading program," Ford said. "And we wanted to change the stereotype of cheerleaders.We wanted to gain the respect of teachers, students and athletes. I think we've achieved those goals."


In fact, the Sultana cheer squads have some of the best athletes on campus.


"The girls who come from athletic programs are surprised at how hard we work."


As Ford's final cheerleading season at Sultana comes to an end, the reality seems intensely bittersweet.


"It's difficult to leave, especially this year. But we've had a great year of cheerleading. It's a great year to go out."