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Originally published Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Drill team "not a sport for sissies"

If this were any other sport, Lindsey Beck would be receiving kudos for taking her Lake Washington High School drill team from average to...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Upcoming drill competitions

District tournament: 8 a.m. March 8, Eastlake High School, 400 228th Ave. N.E., Sammamish

2008 state drill tournament: March 21 and 22, Yakima SunDome.

Drill competitive categories: Drill (precision routine), Pom (dance movements with pompoms), High Kick (similar to Rockette performances), Prop and Production (theatrical settings and props in precision performances) and Hip Hop.

If this were any other sport, Lindsey Beck would be receiving kudos for taking her Lake Washington High School drill team from average to championship status in three seasons.

But drill ranks below just about every other sport in high-school athletic departments and rarely receives any public attention. Because it is a year-round activity, it falls into the never-never-land of not quite a sport but definitely more than a club.

It operates under the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the same group that oversees high-school baseball, basketball, football and other sports. Like in better-known sports, team members earn school letters and typically practice 1-½ hours several mornings a week and two to four hours one or two evenings, plus Saturdays.

"Drill is not a sport for sissies," said Sharon Rogers, drill coach at Interlake High School in Bellevue. "It takes a lot of work."

Started in the 1950s as military-review-style shows, drill features precision routines with synchronized movements. More than 175 high schools in Washington currently participate.

"We're going for marching steps, ripples, creativity and the visual effect," said Beck. "None of it is easy."

"These athletes work just as hard as any football player I've ever met," said Danise Ackelson, a former coach who helped bring drill under the WIAA auspices.

Long, intense hours

Such a precision sport demands long and intense hours if the team wants to make district and state playoffs, Beck said.

She was talking about the athletes, but it applies double to the coaches.

For a stipend of $2,400 a year, Beck devotes 30 or more hours a week to the team between practices, helping choreograph routines, working with the co-captains to come up with new music and tracking the girls' grades.

"I'm a very strict coach and tell the girls academics is their first priority. My team has a 3.5 GPA," Beck said. "The school requires a 2.8 grade-point average to participate."

The dedication and practice have paid off. Three years ago the Lake Washington Drill Team was an also-ran in competitions. Now it's routinely placing in the top three, often winning. The team had already earned a berth in the March 8 district meet before taking first in both dance and pom at a competition earlier this month at Interlake High School.

That's not bad for a 24-year-old coach who works full-time as a dental assistant.

Beck was a team member at Lake Washington from 1999 to 2001 and still could be mistaken for a high-school student. Now she's the one on the sidelines, encouraging the girls to do the routine one more time.

"It was such a great experience and built my self-esteem and confidence so much I wanted to come back and help give that to other girls," Beck said.

To build team camaraderie she works with parents to organize parties and sleepovers and holds team powwows to help the girls work together. Her goal is to instill respect for themselves, their school and the community.

Those who make the team have to help with fundraisers to earn the $1,200 needed for uniforms and camp expenses. They go to drill camp in the summer and begin working on routines for football games and other spirit-related performances. As soon as football season ends, they start practicing routines for competitions that run from January through March. There isn't an offseason.

"Inspirational"

Other coaches have noticed the change in Beck's team.

"Lindsey is fabulous with the girls," said Rogers, the Interlake coach. "She works them hard but has clear expectations. Even though she's half my age, I wish I was more like her. She's inspirational for the girls and for the rest of us coaches."

Tammy Bankson, mother of one team member, said the time-management skills Beck has taught have been as important as any trophies the team wins.

"Teams from other schools tell our girls they can't wait to see what they will do next," Bankson said. "This team never won competitions before Lindsey came."

For Beck, drill is much more than competitions.

"I've cried when I've watched them perform well," she said. "Seeing them work so hard makes it all worthwhile."

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com

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