The Northwest Steppers aren’t just a group of dancers. They are a family within a family that always manages to proves what it can do, and is ready to prove it again when the steppers leave this week for its third consecutive trip to nationals.

Northwest has been famously wearing the ‘title town’ badge for a while now, and the past couple of years show Bearcats are deserving of this badge.

With how sports oriented the town is, the Stepper’s motivation to entertain and cheer with accuracy is no surprise.

Kierstin Hill, a junior psychology major and third year Stepper, says she is always proud to be a Stepper. Not only because of the team it is now, but because she knows the steppers are part of a larger team as well.

“Northwest is such a family and athletics is such a huge part of that family, that it makes us feel in the middle of that as well,” Hill said. “When people find out I'm a Stepper, they almost always tell me they either love watching us dance or that they know someone on the team.

Hill also stated how important it is to remember the Steppers perform, practice, have team work outs, volunteer and train together all while maintaining their statuses as students and role models.

Unfortunately, all of the praise the basketball and football teams gets, though deserved, can sometimes overshadow what other teams are accomplishing.

The Northwest Steppers, now comprised of 18 specially picked members, are one of these groups lying in these shadows, and they are always ready to step forward. Most students are aware the Steppers are performers at games, but little know what it exactly it takes to be a Stepper.

Emily Ivory, a junior dietetics major who is also a third year Stepper, says being a Stepper isn’t about just about staying on the sidelines to perform. To Ivory, and the rest of the team, being a Stepper is a full-time commitment.

“It takes a long time just to prepare the sidelines that you see at football games,” Ivory said. “In addition to that, we do workouts as a team, volunteer and many other things. We represent teamwork, hard work and a deep level of friendship. Others may think that we are just a group that cheers loud at games, but we are much more than that.”

Darbi Fuhrman, coach of the Bearcat Steppers, was on the team for five years in college and is now leading the team for her first year. She says she is not quite sure exactly how many times the Steppers have been to nationals, but she knows they have been competing for at least 15 years.

Even so, Fuhrman believes the Steppers have more to be proud of than just their competitive achievements.

“You should see their faces when little girls come up to them throughout the year and talk about how they love seeing them on the sidelines,” Fuhrman said. “Being great role models is something the team makes sure to prioritize.”

Now with national competition in Florida on the horizon, the Steppers are tasked with putting their money where their mouth is yet again. However, competing in nationals is one thing, qualifying and getting there is an entirely different beast.

First, Steppers need to prove their worth by attending a summer camp and competing against other teams. This means dances can’t just look impressive. It means they need to look almost flawless. In order to maintain dance quality throughout the year, the Steppers need to practice alone and in front of audiences. So while the Steppers perform at games, they always have preparation for nationals in the back of their minds too.

Taking a yearly trip to Florida isn’t cheap either, so the Steppers are always looking for ways to fundraise so their yearly end goal can always be met.

“This year we sold t-shirts, trash bags, jewelry, hosted a kiddie clinic, did multiple car washes, volunteered at Pizza Ranch and a couple of other things,” Ivory said. “In addition to these, we had to raise $9,000 as a team from sponsorships. This year we were very lucky to receive $2,000 from Student Senate, which has helped a lot. All of this money goes toward competition fees, hotels, transportation, costumes and choreography.”

As senior Marissa Jarnagin points out, the Steppers have a final preparation week before nationals finally rolls around called ‘work week.’

“We practice for at least six hours a day perfecting our dances and it can be tiring, but all of it pays off in the end,” Jarnagin said. “Being a Stepper means to me that I’m able to pursue my dancing career, along with building relationships with some amazing women. It makes me a better person physically, mentally and emotionally.”

These are only the physical things the Steppers need to do to prepare for finals. Workouts and fundraising do not include the mental preparation required from the team.

Senior elementary education major Haley Klein, says it can be challenging to keep everyone on the same page, especially when something as stressful as nationals comes around.

“The hardest part is building the cohesive team environment to be the best we can be,” Klein said. “Each year is a different team, so it takes a few months to get into that specific team’s way of working best together. Since I have been on the team for four years, we always have something different in making the team work well together and support each other.”

Klein says these changes and dynamics are never too much for them to handle, and the Stepper’s track record is proof of this.

Klein’s teammate and Stepper captain, senior Lexi Pardee, says the most rewarding part of being a Stepper is simply being given the opportunity to dance with a group of people who share similar interests. The fact they get to do all of this at a school they love that much more of a bonus.

“To me, being a stepper means representing Northwest,” Pardee said. “It means dancing right next to 17 of my best friends and doing what I love for myself, my school and showing then that to my friends and family.”

Whether they are in front of hundreds of people, thousands of people or each other, the Steppers are always giving it everything they have. Dancing is one thing, but dancing as a cohesive team and doing it well enough to come together for a national competition every year is something certainly worth celebrating.

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