By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — For McAlester senior Sarah Sams, dance has always been a family activity. She spent her first three years on McAlester’s pom squad with her older sister Katie, and said next year she wants to join her sister on the University of Central Oklahoma pom squad in Edmond.
But whatever help her sister has provided in the past, Sarah has thrived on her own this year.
“I hope we can pull it together, work hard, and win State,” Sams said Nov. 22.
“School is flying by; dance is flying by; senior year is flying by.”
Sams grew up in McAlester. She started taking class at Pam’s Academy of Dance as a 7-year-old and still takes six classes there, forming a close relationship with Pam Davy, the academy’s owner and founder of McAlester’s pom squad.
“I went into dance class when I was 7, and my arm was broke,” Sams said. “That’s really how I remember it, because I had this cast on, and I couldn’t do ballet in it. I couldn’t do anything with it.”
Though familiar with multiple dance styles, Sams said she likes jazz dance the most.
“You can be sassy, and it’s upbeat,” Sams said of jazz. “It’s just fun.”
Sams participated in the Little Star and All-Star youth pom squads at Pam’s, winning several championships, and now helps run those programs. After Katie and fellow 2013 McAlester graduate Chandler Davy joined the MHS pom squad, Sarah followed suit a year later, trying out as an eighth-grade student in the spring of 2010.
“I was really nervous that day, but Pam was like, ‘Just get out there, you’ll be fine,’” Sams said of her first tryout. “Just, ‘Remember your dance, remember your choreography, big smile, point your toes.’”
Sams made the squad as a freshman and has made it every year since. She’s been on two squads that won state titles and three that have qualified for Nationals.
With both Katie and Sarah on the squad, the 2011-12 squad placed 16th at Nationals, which Sarah said still ranks as her favorite pom memory.
“At Nationals, when I wouldn’t feel good, (Katie) would be there,” Sams said.
“She helped me through a lot.”
Team unity can often make or break a pom squad. With the 2013 state competition just three weeks away, Sams said this year’s team really came together at a team sleepover about a month ago.
“We realized that we need to start sticking together because we have State coming up, and we have to dance like a team, like you like each other,” Sams said. “That shows the judges, ‘Oh, this team really loves dancing.’”
The 2013-14 Lady Buffs will also try to better last year’s semifinal finish at Nationals. This year the Lady Buffs intend to compete in two separate categories at Nationals, having qualified at a pom camp at the University of Tulsa in June.
Sams was named a Universal Dance Association All-American at the TU camp and earned a UDA staff tryout.
But before State, Nationals or UDA tryouts, Sams still has one or hopefully two football games left at which to perform.
“Most people don’t get to see us at State and stuff, so this is the only time they get to see us, is on the sidelines,” Sams said. “So we need to represent ourselves really well out there.”
Sams added, “We’re like a spirit squad to pump up the football players and keep them going if they have a bad play or something, and pump up the crowd. I love it. It’s fun.”
Sams has been able to perform despite battling several injuries. She said she chose physical therapy over reconstructive surgery for a sprained ankle earlier in her career, and this season she’s battled a strained iliotibial band in her thigh that requires extra warm-up exercises.
Those injuries have made Sams want to study kinesiology and fitness at UCO, then become a physical therapist.
“I’ve been hurt before, and I’ve had to go there, and it seems fun,” Sams said of her future profession. “It seems like something I want to do, help other players out.”
When she’s not dancing, Sams said she’s part of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America group at MHS.
Though Sams has usually had the support of her family and teammates, sometimes her dance career has forced her to stand alone.
But whether alone or with her family, Sams always finds a way to succeed.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.