High level stunts, exacting synchronous movements and enthusiastic team spirit helped earn Oak Hills High School its first state cheerleading championship trophy during a recent open competition at Knott's Berry Farm.


The Bulldogs' varsity squad took home the Sharp International Knotts 2011 State Cheerleading Championship on Feb. 19-20, and the school's junior varsity team took second place in its division. Oak Hills also took the overall championship trophy by scoring the most total points. The event was held in front of a large audience in the Charles M. Schulz Theater.


The varsity squad performed a 2-1/2-minute routine with a combination of stunting, dancing and cheer. The music was a mash-up of contemporary songs.


"We've been preparing for about three months," said head cheer coach Dale Ford. "We only do one competition. We do one and try to do a good job."


This year was the first time that Oak Hills, which opened in August of 2009, fielded a varsity squad at a state competition. The 30-member varsity squad has 24 girls and eight boys. Only nine are upperclassmen with five seniors and four juniors. One varsity cheerleader is a freshman.


"We're a pretty young team," Ford said. "Twenty of our 30 are sophomores."


Ford, who moved over from Sultana High School when Oak Hills was opened, said not many students from Hesperia High tried out that first year. But last year a number of talented freshmen tried out and made the team.


"Our squad's worked hard this year, and we've really done well."


About eight on the varsity team are tumblers who team up with the eight male members to perform "partner stunting."


"You usually only see partner stunting at the college level," Ford said. "We are very fortunate to have eight guys on our squad. At the championship our guys were able to perform very well."


The Bulldogs competed in the co-ed, high stunts division. Ford is assisted by Tiffany Burton. Julie Thayn is the junior varsity coach.


"It's fun," said junior Chris Petrovich, a former football player as a freshman who moved over to cheer. "It's challenging at times. It's a workout."


In fact, said the former wide-receiver, "It's more of a workout to do cheer than football."


In the late 1980s, Petrovich's father Aaron Barrs was a cheerleader at Hesperia High under Coach Ford.


Throughout the year, cheerleaders lift weights, run, and perform push ups and sit ups, Ford said.


"That's what I enjoy about it, is the athleticism. We work as hard as other sports."


Ford has transformed every team he has coached into a winner. In 2009, he led the Sultans to a state championship. Prior to Sultana, he was the Hesperia High cheer coach.


"It was the third high school I got to open, so that was neat," he said. "The support from (principal) Mr. Porras has been really phenomenal."


Besides support from the top, Ford and his team enjoy the school's winning attitude and the state-of-the-art amenities such as its "triple gym," which features three basketball courts under one roof.


"There are a lot of unique things at Oak Hills. So far our pep rallies have been all-school pep rallies."


The recent state championship was the result of effort all the team members, according to senior Holly Gray, a co-captain Katie Perks.


"I'm proud of our team," Gray said. "We worked really hard. It's cool to be involved in everything and cheer our school on."