Hillcrest drill encompasses theme ‘Full Heart’ after losing one of their own
Oct 29, 2018 05:18PM
● By Jana Klopsch
Hillcrest High School junior Olivia Rodgerson was a three-year member of the drill team before she lost her life in a car accident. (Photo courtesy of Dave Brewer)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
This month, Hillcrest High drill team members may be found putting a sticky note up on a locker or on a restroom mirror with words of kindness and compassion.
It’s been about six months of shock, disbelief, anger, hope and healing for the 34 girls and coaches since team member Olivia Rodgerson was in a car accident in early June on the way to practice one morning. Following the accident, she was in a coma and on life support until Aug. 22, the first day of school. Olivia would have been a junior and third-year drill team member.
“We were so lucky to have her on the team and to have known her,” Coach Chelsea Divine said. “She was a great representative of who we are. She was a beautiful person and dancer and a friend who accepted everyone; she didn’t judge. To many, Liv was known to be full of life and at times a real prankster. She was fun, put humor into everything, but she was respectful and a good academic student, on the honor roll.”
During November, Hillcrest drill team is showing how they are thankful for her friendship and in her honor, are reaching out with acts of kindness, Divine said.
“We are ‘Liv Strong,’ and she wouldn’t think of not taking one minute of time to make others happier, to give them a smile,” she said, adding that the team also will help the Utah Food Bank this month. “When we picked the theme, ‘Full Heart,’ it was chosen to keep the team united and unbreakable because when we’re together, we can accomplish and do great things. With Liv, it has taken on a whole other meaning.”
Before the high school counselors offered support this fall, senior drill member Katie Morrison said the team rallied around each other in the summer.
“A few girls were behind her coming to practice and saw the accident so our coach and two others went to the scene,” Morrison said. “Then Chelsea called and we put her on speaker so we could all hear what happened. We circled around and prayed for her. We were there all summer, supporting each other, visiting her at the hospital. Our team is really close.”
Olivia’s family also has become a pillar to the Hillcrest team.
“Her family has given us so much strength,” Divine said. “They supported us at our fundraising car wash when she was in the hospital. Her dad brought us pizza. They are always here for us just as they were before.”
It’s not just the drill team. Her family, who spoke at her August service, also sent words shortly before she died to Hillcrest’s soccer team, who rallied around Olivia by wearing hair ribbons with her favorite color, purple, and wrote “Liv Strong,” on their legs at their game.
Olivia’s friend, and a captain of the Hillcrest soccer team, junior Shay McQuiston, said it was her idea, along with teammate junior Lija Lubavs, to honor her before the game against Jordan High on Aug. 21.
“Wearing purple to me is a reminder of ‘you got this girl’ because that was Liv’s favorite phrase,” Shay said. “Liv was a person who could put a smile on anyone’s face, whether you were close to her or not. She had this amazing laugh where even if you didn’t find the joke funny, you were laughing with her. She was always the first person who was up for a crazy adventure (and) she was the sweetest, most genuine girl and always knew how to make someone feel good about themselves.”
The cross country team honored both Olivia and fellow classmate, 16-year-old Waylon Reed, Jr., who died Aug. 20, right before the beginning of the school year, at their Aug. 25 meet and the school’s student body officers requested everyone wear purple for them at school in late August.
Beyond Hillcrest, others sent their wishes during the summer to the drill team and to Olivia as well as after the Aug. 25 service, which was held at the Living Planet Aquarium. There, 1,200 bracelets, the type Olivia had loved making, were made in her honor and were distributed to her friends.
“The drill community is amazing,” Divine said. “Every team sent posters, cards, flowers of outreach and support. It has been truly humbling and beyond appreciated by all of us.”
Divine added that through it all, the family has continued to support the team.
“Her mom is truly amazing. Her strength and unwavering positivity through everything was inspiring for all of us. We all love Liv’s family so much,” she said.
But at first, Morrison said there was an adjustment to dancing without Olivia, especially the hip hop piece, where she stood next to her.
“We’d refer to the position as Liv’s spot and it was hard because I didn’t want anyone to take her spot. I didn’t want anyone to replace her. I knew she was strong so I was telling myself she’d come back,” she said. “I remember her in our military dance. She had this fierce face so I knew while she was in the coma, she was fighting and strong. That’s how I knew we were Liv Strong and why we’re dedicating our dancing to her.”
This season, their lyrical dance, “For My Help,” will be performed in Olivia’s honor, Divine said. The team will wear purple costumes.
“Through hard times, our girls can help each other through it, through their dancing. It’s a very emotional piece, but together, it will be beautiful. Drill is a sisterhood and family and Olivia will be looking down, dancing with them and loving her friends,” she said. “We’ve learned to give each day our best and not to take anything for granted.”
Already, the team has performed at football games, cheering together, “Liv Strong,” before taking the field. Each day as they begin practice, they count off their roll call numbers, together saying Olivia’s number – 14.
“That was one of our captains, (senior) Michelle Sluga’s idea,” Morrison said. “We were all thinking about her and it was difficult to talk about it initially. So every morning when we counted off, we’d write her number in purple on our wrist and together, say her number. In a way, she’s still here, bringing us together and we’re letting her friends in the student section know we’re thinking of her.”
The theme, “Full Heart,” continues beyond this month, stretching into drill team’s season.
“We want them to have the vision and enthusiasm to excel in everything they do with pride, honoring their school and their sport. When they have the commitment and are fully invested, their passion will shine through,” Divine said.
The team’s first competition will be against about 10 other 6A teams on Dec. 1 at the Wasatch Drill Invitational, followed by the Utah Valley Classic the next weekend. Their last invitational will be the Jan. 12, 2019 Rocky Mountain Invitational held at Corner Canyon High School.
Region will be held Jan. 24, 2019 at Hunter High and state prelims are Jan. 30, 2019 followed by the final on Feb. 2, 2019 at Utah Valley University.
Updates on the team’s performances will be posted on Instagram (@hillcrest_drill) as well as on the Hillcrest drill team Facebook page.
“Our goal is for our team to show their love of each other and the sport they love as they do their best,” Divine said, who has coached the team to four consecutive region titles in her four years as head coach.
“It’s the strength of our team and community and the love of dance that is keeping us focused for (Olivia) and for each other.”