By: Lisa Ferguson
For decades, Celina High School’s Las Gatitas drill team has filed onto the field at Bobcat Stadium during halftime and delivered high-energy dance and pom routines that entertain the crowds in the stands.
This year is no different. The team’s 24 members, dressed in their sparkling orange-and-white sequined uniforms, have already performed at weekly school pep rallies and football games several of the highly-choreographed numbers they crafted and learned during summer break, during which they attended workout sessions three days per week, as well as an intensive weeklong camp where they practiced into the wee hours of the morning.
“They are very much athletes,” said Kelly Babb, the office manager at CHS who for more than a dozen years has also served as Las Gatitas’ advisor. She is joined this season by the school’s attendance clerk Keri Owen, who is the team’s assistant advisor.
The girls “don’t always get credit for being athletes,” Babb said, “but they put in a ton of hours” honing their dance and choreography skills and perfecting routines. “They put in a lot more work than they get credit for.”
That includes hand-painting signs that decorate the fieldhouse at Bobcat Stadium, creating spirit-boosting banners for the football teams’ locker room, and smaller sentiments of support that are placed in the buses on which players ride to away games. Las Gatitas also assists the CHS cheerleaders in decorating the campus in advance of homecoming.
Calling the girls “ambassadors,” Babb said, “They’re just so willing to do anything for the school and help out in any way.”
A member of Las Gatitas since her freshman year, senior Shaelyn Romero she said is she often recognized by her fellow students on campus. “They’re like, `You’re on the Las Gatitas’ … and they talk about the pep rallies and the games.” The 17-year-old said she’ll never forget when the Celina Bobcats made their 2015 run at the state championship title: “That is a big memory (for me), driving five hours to Houston with the drill team and cheer (team), staying at the hotel … and waking up that morning to go to the game.”
Las Gatitas “has been a huge part of my life,” Romero said. After graduation, “I’m going to miss the girls the most.”
Senior Avery Trimmer has also spent her entire high school career as a Las Gatita. “I would definitely say it’s been a really life-changing experience,” she said, explaining that a huge amount responsibility accompanies the role. “I love how much it has taught me. … This is hard work, but overall it’s really worth it because of how much fun you get to have, and you get to experience new things.”
She has also enjoyed being part of Celina’s football tradition. “Halftime is our time. … It’s always been like that,” 17-year-old Trimmer said. “I do feel like people look forward to watching us dance … and every single year they know that the Las Gatitas are going to be there to perform.”
Babb also oversees Bobcat Brigade, the all-male spirit organization founded at CHS in 2009. The boys work in tandem with Las Gatitas and the cheer squads during pep rallies and games, and also run the massive C-E-L-I-N-A flags across the field when the team scores.
This season, Bobcat Brigade’s 10 members are “really working to make sure that their reputation is that of a true, college-formatted spirit organization” similar to those at some universities, Babb said.
As she does for Bobcat Brigade, Babb also has high expectations for the 2018-19 Las Gatitas team, whose members will continue to practice and perform after football season comes to a close.
The girls will begin prepping in January for their competition season, during which they’ll participate in a pair of regional- and state-level contests against dozens of other high school dance teams.
In 2016, Las Gatitas won the Grand Champion prize at the state competition in Weatherford. They brought home several trophies from the 2018 event held earlier this year, and Babb expects similar results at the 2019 competition in February. “Every one of these girls are such good dancers. I see us coming home with a lot of awards.”
She points to the success already achieved by Las Gatitas’ seven officer members, who in July competed during a statewide officer camp near Austin. At the event, sponsored by Danceline USA, the girls won multiple honors including spots for each officer on the company’s Elite dance team.
Babb said the drill team is only able to afford its competition-related fees and other annual expenses by hosting fundraisers (its popular photo-laden wall calendar is now available for purchase at the high school) and thoughtfully utilizing the donations it receives from team sponsors in the community and beyond.
Among those who this year have generously supported Las Gatitas are Bodine Orthodontics; Animal Hospital of Celina; Fuse Prosper, LLC; Seelye Construction; Helms Team LLC; El Dorado Chevrolet; Southwest Construction; Texas Select Erosion; Independent Bank; Atomic T-Shirts; Imagine Resorts and Hotels; and the McDonald Family.
“Our sponsors are amazing. They have allowed us to buy competition uniforms, to be able to pay to attend competitions, to go to our (officer) camp this past summer. They have helped us out tremendously with supplies,” Babb said. “We could not survive as an organization if we did not have our sponsors.”
As they have done for several years, on Feb. 23 Las Gatitas will host a Danceline USA-sponsored competition at CHS. Hundreds of young dancers from schools throughout North Texas are expected to compete at the event, which is Las Gatitas’ biggest annual fundraiser.
Capping the year, the drill team will stage its popular annual Spring Show at CHS on April 27. Members will spotlight their dance abilities as a group as well as in small ensembles and solo performances.
“This group of girls is truly a family,” Babb said of the team. “They really support one another.”