This is not a drill: Shorewood performance team adjusts after loss of coach

by Darby O'Neill , Assistant Art Director

A “ball change” is defined as a quick transfer of weight from one foot to the other; a commonly used dance technique the Shorewood Drill team was plenty used to. This spring, however, on top of a myriad of COVID-produced toils, another quick transfer took the team by force.

Hired as the head coach in the fall of 2019, Stephanie Doyle happily worked with many of the girls right up until the end. Britt Harris explained how it all happened so quickly; “When the state approved the back to in-person training for teams, it was very short notice. There was not a lot of time between when they announced it and when you could actually start practices,” she said. With an extremely busy home life and a job outside of Shorewood, Doyle unfortunately found herself unable to take on coaching. 

“She’d originally taken a temporary leave of absence and was supposed to come back later this year, but we found out a little bit ago that she’s officially not coming back at all,” explained Anna Carrol, senior. Parker Curtiss-Knox, another of the team’s three seniors, added: “We originally didn’t know if we were going to have anything for Drill. And then when we did get that hope, it kind of went away when Stephanie had to step back for a moment.” 

When all seemed lost, an unexpected hero stepped up. Activities Coordinator Harris, overseeing the return of performance teams, explained her reaction to the situation. “I was like, ‘wait a minute… football is coming back, cheer is coming back, flags and hip hop are coming back, but not drill? That’s not okay. I’ll fill in, what do you need me to do?’” 

“The transition was kind of weird. We didn’t have an advisor at all for a while. But then luckily, Harris stepped in,” said Curtiss-Knox. “It’s nice to have something. I’m very appreciative of being able to drill at all.” 

Kielyee Steele, junior, agreed. “Without her, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now.” Having a casual background in dance and cheerleading, Harris was excited to take on the job as best as she could, overcoming challenges and bonding with the team along the way. 

“We’re all super appreciative of Ms. Harris,” stated Carrol. “She has done a lot for us, like making sure we had competitions this year, getting to practice, helping us with music, and finding a choreographer. For [Harris] to learn what Drill is, how we usually run things, and then having her new perspectives and inputs helped us change a couple of things to work more functionally.”

Many of the girls agreed that the most fun component of a typical Drill season is the competitions. “You get to spend a lot of time together, get ready with the team, travel out of town, blast music on the way there, and make a lot of awesome memories with people,” said Carrol. 

But due to COVID safety guidelines, the team found themselves competing virtually. They record their routines in the gym, without an audience, and send them in online to be seen by the judges. 

“That definitely plays a big part of it, because you can’t feed off of the audience’s energy or interact with people while you’re performing,” said Curtiss-Knox. 

Trying to look on the bright side, the team agreed that competing from their “home turf” does have its benefits. “It was nice to have the opportunity to record multiple times, watch them over, and see which one is the best,” described Carrol. “That was one advantage. At State, you just go out and perform and that’s it.”

With the return to in-person schooling, it was announced that the team could hold tryouts. With no advisor at the time, people didn’t know if Drill would even happen, and uncertainty clogged the in-filter. “Recruiting new members and keeping the ones we have has been really challenging,” said Curtiss-Knox. “Between COVID reasons, and just wanting to join other sports, it’s totally understandable but also really sad to lose our people.” 

The team was only able to gain one new member: Steele, a student with casual dance experience and a former interest in joining Drill. “Being really the only new member as of now, I was nervous at first going in,” said Steele. “However, I started to feel more comfortable as everyone on the team was just so encouraging and supportive.” She explained that her experience was very unique, having never known Doyle and being taught the fundamentals by other Drill members before Harris stepped in. 

With a shortage of members, the team has also had to adjust to the loss of the typical leadership structure. Without captains and lieutenants, they’ve adjusted to rotating through what they call ‘Student Leaders.’ 

“It’s anyone that wants to step up and take a large role on the team; they will help lead stretches and practices,” said Carrol. The team doesn’t expect Harris to know everything, so this method has proven very helpful. “Having student leaders helps us work together to know exactly what we need to learn, what we’re doing well, and what we should be doing better,” said Steele.

The team recently posted the official dates for next season’s tryouts. They will happen on June 2-4, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; June 5 from 9 to 11 a.m.; June 7 from 12 to 2 p.m.; and June 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. All tryouts will be held at the Syre Elementary School Gym. 

“Be on the lookout for information. You will have to submit forms online just like all the other athletes,” said Harris. Harris stated she is available for contact, and instructed to go to her or anyone on the team for any questions— they all seemed eager and open to help. 

With things looking up as the world returns to normal, the team is excited for next year and hopes to welcome new members of all genders and prior experiences. “It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hours to put in, but it’s so worth it,” said Carrol. “We are all starting somewhere, just show up and try!”

Email to contact Ms. Harris:

britt.harris@shorelineschools.org