In five short years, program has taken off

The BHS poms and dance squad performs at halftime of the Homecoming football game last month. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Troy Sparks

Sports Correspondent (

Ashley Schilleman was extremely busy.

There was a Burlington High School homecoming football game against visiting Delavan-Darien in early October, and she was the jack-of-all trades.

Schilleman was the homecoming co-advisor and senior class advisor and organized the homecoming court. She was also in charge of the concession stand that night.

In addition to being a mother to a young son, Schilleman is the special education teacher who also teaches math, geometry and algebra at BHS.

Another influential position that Schilleman takes very seriously at BHS is coaching the girls’ pom-pom and dance team. Six years ago, she took on the challenge of making the team more competitive.

“I think there were more than five (girls) when I started (coaching), but it wasn’t competitive here and I never danced before,” Schilleman said. “And I was just hired as a teacher here, so I took the program and just tried to make it better.”

Recruiting more members was slowly spread through word-of-mouth at school. And over time, the numbers increased.

“I think developing relationships in the classroom and just students getting to know me and know that it’s a safe place,” Schilleman said about the increase in numbers. “It’s a fun place, and just changing maybe the image of the dance (team) to be just better and positive role models within the school (created the interest).”

There were 30 girls that performed a 2-½ minute halftime routine at last Friday’s game. They moved in unison to an upbeat music mix with poms, doing high kicks, knee lifts and twists and turns. The moves were synchronized.

The girls worked together like a well-oiled machine. They ended the routine by dropping their poms on the ground then taking a pose with hands on their hips and smiling to the enthusiastic crowd. The team also performs at BHS girls and boys home basketball games and in pom-pom and dance competitions.

“Our commitment to the team and how bonded we are as a family (is what we want the crowd to observe),” senior Morgan Tracy said. “I hope it all looks good and we’re all smiling and just how happy we are to be out there.”

Tracy is a four-year member of the team and it took a while for the student body to catch on to the success of the pom-pom and dance team.


Spreading the word

“It definitely took a lot of spreading the word around the school,” she said. “Obviously, our first state appearance my freshman year made a big difference for sure.”

Senior Jesse Ganwood followed behind the footsteps of her older sister, 2016 BHS graduate Josie, who also was on the team.

“I first came out when my sister was a senior on poms,” Jesse Ganwood said. “(Josie has) been (on the team) all four years as well. I felt like I was held to her expectations almost and I would be her legacy. All I was really expecting out of this was to be a better dancer, but I came out with a lot of friendships and just a lot of humbleness around the school.”

“It’s almost like a first sense of acceptance as a freshman. We don’t really know anyone (as freshmen), but it’s nice knowing people in the school.”

The hard work paid off under Schilleman’s guidance. The pom-pom and dance team advanced from the regional competition in Watertown the last three years from 2016 through ‘18. They qualified for state in La Crosse, which is held the first weekend in February. The team hopes to qualify for state in 2019.

“We have been working very hard, hoping we place for state again this year, since it will mean the senior team members placed for state all four years during high school,” Schilleman said. “One main reason it was such a big deal last year to qualify is because we only had nine girls on the competitive team.”

Teams at the state competition perform before a panel of judges. Scores in each category range from 5 points to 20 points with a total maximum score of 90.

The criteria for earning points include visual effectiveness and dimension of movement, formations and transitions, difficulty of the routines, the principles of pom, such as proper wrist technique, sharpness, strength of movement and proper posture, supplemental skill technique, overall uniformity and precision, creativity and originality, projection and overall routine effectiveness. Deductions from half a point to a full point for errors will affect the scoring outcome.

The BHS pom team didn’t place at state the last three years, and that was because the score sheet changes each year, according to Schilleman. She points out that the main area of concern for her team is the maintenance of lines and spacing. She also said it’s difficult to create the same visuals for points with a team of nine girls than with a team of more than 20 girls.

“This is because we practice on the lunchroom floor with only a small portion of our practices being able to use a basketball court like the space we are required to compete on,” Schilleman said. “We have limited gym space in our district and this a growing concern. Other areas we tend to struggle with are endurance and precise movements.”


State dreams

Mikella Plitzuweit recalled her first experience at state like it was yesterday.

“It was a lot of amazement,” she said. “We were overjoyed and looking at all the seniors at the time and their faces. They were in awe because they have never done this before. I know that it was a meaningful thing for us to go.”

The support for the team is widespread not only throughout the school but in the community. There were bumps and bruises along the way for both the girls and for their coach.

Schilleman said about half of the girls came to the team with previous dance experience and she taught the other half who didn’t take dance lessons at a studio the routines from the ground up.

“The first year,” Schilleman said, “I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ The second year, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re getting this.’ And then (the third year) we were like, ‘Oh man (this is unbelievable)!’ And then the next three years in a row we made it to state.”

Some of the girls on the BHS team added some gymnastic skills to their routines, courtesy of an arrangement from Schilleman. She took them to Westosha Central for some lessons from a very good and experienced Central girls team.

“We went there and worked with tumbling and within a couple of sessions we actually have girls that have aerial (skills) now,” Schilleman said. “They can do cartwheels with no hands.”

Schilleman now has a team of dedicated girls that wants to be at every practice and work hard. She said they treat pom-pom and dance like a varsity sport. The older girls on the team serve as mentors to the young ones.

“My biggest piece of advice (to the underclassmen) is to always keep a positive attitude because we’ve all had our rough patches and life slumps,” Jesse Ganwood said. “And we all plateau at some point. Honestly, if you don’t have a good attitude, it’s just not fun and there’s no reason to be (on the team).”