With a running string of three straight 3A state championships, The Uintah High drill team, the U’ettes, from Vernal, Utah, has a tradition of winning. The U’ettes have won state eight times in the last 14 years.
For this squad, however, much of what it does goes far beyond competition. Like so many squads throughout the state, these young women have also developed a tradition of giving back to people who have fallen on trying times.
What started as a fundraiser the first two years of coach Robin McClellan’s tenure, has turned into a way of regularly giving back to people connected to the team or dance community in the Vernal area. Each summer since 2008, the team has sponsored a high kick-a-thon to raise money. For six years, this money has been donated to recipients chosen by the coaches and the team. McClellan has renamed the kick-a-thon fundraiser “Kicks of Kindness.”
“In May and early June, each U’ette gets pledges per high kick from family and community members,” McClellan said. “They pledge a penny, nickel or dime for each kick. The U’ettes then spend over an hour sweating in a hot gym to complete 500 kicks as a team. The kicks must be executed to eye level or above or they must to be repeated.”
It has give the girls on the team an opportunity to give back to their community.
“We are a very visible program at our high school, and have very generous donors from the business community and families of the girls,” McClellan said. “The girls and I felt it was important to give something back for all of the financial and other support that we have received over the years. In 2008 for example, one of our former team member’s 15-month-old daughter, Izzi, passed away in a tragic accident. The team used the money from the kick-a-thon to buy a large Greg Olsen painting framed for the family, which was given to them as a token of feelings for them at the time of their great loss.”
The recipient of that gift, Liz Howcroft, is now one of the assistant coaches for the U’ettes.
“I cannot even begin to explain the heartache of losing our beautiful baby girl,” Howcroft said. “My husband and I were so touched by the support of the U’ettes and their coaches that we decided six months later to award three Uintah High U’ettes scholarships in memory of her on her birthday.
“It’s hard as a mother to know your daughter will never have the opportunity to be involved in programs like the U’ettes. It brought us some peace knowing these girls and their coaches were aware and grateful for the gift of a team and the opportunity they have to dance. This gave me a little more strength to face the day-to-day challenges as I processed that great loss.”
Other Kicks of Kindness monies have gone to people facing medical challenges and costs associated with treatments. The U’ettes donated money to assist Diane and Brett Erickson after their first baby, Jaxson, was born with Phenylketonuria.
The couple had extensive transportation costs traveling to and from SLC to the metabolic clinic at Primary Children’s Medical Hospital for treatment of the PKU, a journey of 360 miles round trip each week. Diane brought 4-month-old Jaxson to watch the U’ettes kick up their heels for him.
“It touched my heart that the U’ettes thought of my son, raised money to help and did 500 kicks for Jaxson,” Diane said. “That’s a lot of kicks.”
Money was also given to help with travel and medical costs for team members, like current senior and team captain, Taylor Harvey, who made the U’ettes with a pre-existing serious back injury when she was a sophomore.
“It meant so much to me that my team cared that much and were willing to do all that fundraising for me,” Harvey said. The money was a huge help for my family.”
Another former team member that the U’ettes helped needed treatment for a brain tumor, and another suffered a serious knee injury during the season and was in need of surgery. The U’ettes also donated money to the family of two former drill team sisters, whose mother fought a noble battle with cancer and eventually passed away from the disease.
This past summer, the U’ettes used the money raised from Kicks of Kindness to donate to Alissa Sizemore, an 8-year-old Vernal resident, who lost her foot in an accident when she was hit by a delivery truck in May 2014. Many of the girls knew Alissa from the private dance studio in the Vernal area where many of the girls have trained.
“Alissa is such a sweet little girl and always fills the room with joy,” said sophomore Vanessa Hodgkinson after handing the check to Alissa and her mother at the 24th of July Parade. “She’s amazing and I was really happy to do Kicks of Kindness for her.”
“Doing Kicks of Kindness for her (Alissa) was so great because I wanted to see her dance again and to be the fun little girl running around that she was the night I helped at the ballet recital,” said Erin Richards in describing the experience.
The U’ettes recognize that they have been given many opportunities to be active and perform. The team members have enjoyed tremendous support from their families and the Vernal community. As a small token of their appreciation for all that they have received, they find great pleasure in giving something back every year in the form of donations from their Kicks of Kindness.
“It’s a neat way to use our skills to help people in the community and give back to people that support us so much,” said third-year U’ette Paige Daggett.