The Countdown

With a wind chill of -15 and snowball donuts mysteriously appearing across town due to the gusty wintry conditions, one would think any self-respecting Knoxite would find perfect reason to stay huddled at home in front of their fireplaces sipping hot cocoa, or flipping aimlessly through television channels, free to let the blizzards blow by outside while they stay content indoors where there aren’t any icicles.  Why then, is every window dark and every driveway empty all across Knox each frozen January evening?  Because, instead of cuddling up at home, everyone has crowded themselves into the Keystone’s gym, where the tantalizing smell of the concession stand mixes with the sweat and tension emanating from the hardwood, and the weight of the final three seconds on the buzzer has become heavier than the threat of driving home in a blizzard.  Where players pour their hearts out on the floor to put up two points and popcorn is just an added bonus on the night.  Because, despite the wet snowflakes and frostbitten toes, winter belongs to basketball season.

 

And that’s just from the spectators’ point of view; for the boys and girls duking it out on the court, that final three seconds on the clock is a whole different ball game: one that’s even more intense on the hardwood than from the bleachers.  That is backed by hours of practice and the tight bonds of a team.  That is fueled by the shouting of fans and the encouragement coaches, and driven by the chance at victory, hovering just within reach.  That grows more epic with each game as the countdown to the end of regular season begins.

 

In anticipation for that playoff milestone, the Keystone Panthers varsity boys’ basketball team has worked around a height disadvantage and the graduation of nearly their entire starting lineup from last season to earn a current record of 9-5 overall and 4-2 for KSAC South.  That places them in second for KSAC, and well within reach of the KSAC title overall.

 

Under the direction of wise veteran coach Greg Heath, along with assistant coach Matt Clark, the boys are ready have utilized smooth ball movement and tough rebounding, along with gritted teeth and just a bit of swag, to get them this far. Now, led by starters Adam Lencer, Ryan Wolbert, Alex Graff, Tim Haines, and either Jake Coursen, Cameron Henry, or Micah Sherry, the boys are ready to buckle down and take their remaining regular season games by storm, before moving on to blow away play-offs.

 

The Lady Panthers, who, like the boys, are facing playing as a “short” team this season, have used tenacious defense and speed to fight to a record of 9-6 overall and 4-1 for KSAC South so far this season.  They are currently tied for first in KSAC South with Karns City.

 

The varsity girls start Kennedy McLendon, Mallory Reed, Shayla Chapman, Maddie Johnson, and McKenna Shick, and are led by the unmatchable focus of coach Barry Foust.  The Lady Panthers are confident they will come away from the regular season with seven more wins out of their seven remaining games before heading to play-offs to claim the KSAC South crown.

 

And so both the varsity boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are ready to continue clawing their way to victory, with nothing they can’t overcome standing in their way.  After all, the Panthers have the beat of the feet, don’t they?

 

With such intense competition (and popcorn available to boot) it’s no wonder winter belongs to basketball…and now, cancer does, to, as the sixth annual Battle of the Burg, a night of varsity basketball between Keystone and Union that donates all proceeds to the Clarion County Cancer Center, is fast approaching on February 5.  As a night when giving and basketball come together to thread the community ever closer, the Battle of the Burg truly embodies what winter means in Knox: community, fun, and b-ball!

 

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Number One

Cheer

When we say Keystone, you say Panthers!  Keystone!  Panthers!  Keystone!  Panthers!

When we say black, you say gold!  Black!  Gold!  Black!  Gold!  

When we say number, you say one…  

This time, the upbeat Keystone Varsity Cheer Squad is taking their turn in the spotlight to be  number one; they’ve become the District IX cheerleading co-champs, and recently placed 15th in the medium varsity cheerleading division at the state level.  

Ooh, we got it!  Ooh, ooh, we got it!

As her reputation would suggest, Mrs. Kami Coursen is the coach behind these victories, leading the varsity cheerleaders to success in districts for the second time in the two years that PIAA has hosted an official district competition for cheerleading (the Lady Panthers took third in districts in 2013), and to state semifinals for the second year in a row.  

In her twentieth year of coaching Keystone’s cheer squad, Coach Coursen advises the girls with an ever-present smile, and a patient demeanor that the girls in the squad, like Rebecca, a sophomore, really appreciate.  Coach Coursen is assisted by Emily Zerbe, a volunteer coach that is fresh on the scene in her second year of varsity cheer assistant coaching.  Both coaches are extremely proud of their squad, as the girls claimed an “awesome finish against some huge and talented schools”, according to Coach Coursen.  

And the squad definitely earned that pride.  Made up of 21 dedicated ninth through twelfth grade girls, the Keystone varsity cheerers condition year-round and are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their cheer routine, which continues to develop and grow throughout the school year with the girls’ abilities, according to Coach Coursen.  

From the time they were in elementary school, the varsity cheerleaders have been working to increase their stunting and gymnastics skills enough to make the squad, and still attend seminars and camps to improve their abilities, on top of weekly tumbling classes.  To the Lady Panthers, cheerleading is, and, always has been, just as much of a sport as football or baseball.  And they have treated cheer that way, “long before PIAA recognized it”, says Coach Coursen, who attributes her girls’ success to this such athletic mindset, the extra instruction the girls put in for through clinics and choreographers, and the hard work and passion of the squad, begun from the time the girls were just ten years old.    

We’ve got the V, we’ve got the I, now add the C, T, O, R, Y!  

After qualifying for states through their district championship success, the Panthers varsity cheer squad traveled to Hershey for the two-day PIAA state championships, where they took on 44 other medium (comprised of 16 to 20 members) squads from across Pennsylvania at all things cheer.  The competition kicked off January 25th with the preliminary rounds, in which each cheerleading squad (121 in all) competed in their category (small, medium, large, or co-ed) to earn as high of a score as possible.  Scoring in the top 25% of a squad’s category would earn them a spot in the state finals on January 26th, while scoring in the next 25% would capture a position in semifinals, which would also take place on the 26th.  The top team from semifinals on the second day of competition would be accepted into finals for another chance at the top state crown.

The scores were dealt out by a panel of three judges, and could total up to 100 points, split into a cheer evaluation worth up to 30 points and a music routine worth up to 70 points.  The cheer evaluation cycles around a cheer squad’s motions, skills, and crowd captivation, while the music portion is scored based on a 90 second routine developed by the squad that must include choreography, stunts, tumbling, pyramids, and as much other cheering as possible.

“The number of girls on the team who can do certain skills at the same time improves the score,” says Coach Coursen.  “…We earn a lot of standing tumbling points because more than half of the team can do a synchronized, difficult skill.  It’s all about majority in cheerleading.  You can have an outstanding cheerleader, but her skills won’t get you any extra points if a majority of the team cannot do them, too.  Therefore, we work really hard, as a team, to have excellent and difficult stunting, tumbling and jumping skills in order to compete with the big schools at states.”

PIAA doesn’t officially classify cheer squads as “A”, “AA”, etc, but compared to school standings in other sports, Keystone would have been the only A squad to advance on to competition on the 26th.  In their second day on the floor, the Lady Panthers were competing in the semi-finals.  From there, the Panthers took 15th place out of the total 44 squads (all of which would have been AAA or AAAA schools) in their division.   

Too hot to handle, too hot to touch…

There’s never a dull moment in any football or basketball game with the Panther cheerleaders on the scene.  They woo the crowd with countless backflips, smooth transitions, and acrobatic stunts that would knock the average person flat on their behinds.  Nearly every Keystone student knows the Panther cheer squad’s beloved chants by heart, and is soon to catch on when the girls mix it up with new cheers.  They are truly too hot to touch, and now the girls have proven just how much they can bring the heat, not just from the sideline, but the center of the court, too.  Good job ladies!

The Panthers got the beat–clap clap–the beat of the feet!  It goes clap, clap, snap, snap…