Talon Harper is the new cheer coach for the Buffaloes.
New GCHS cheer coach brings experience to squad
By Brett Marshall
When Talon Harper moved from Dodge City to Garden City in the summer of 2018, his primary focus was the opening of his new business, Fusion Athletics, focusing on cheer, tumbling, and other skills that are utilized for cheer and dance groups.
Now, just a year later, Harper is the new cheer coach at Garden City High School and brings a wealth of experience in cheer to provide new insight to the Buffaloes’ 21-member squad.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” said Harper, who is working as a para in the GCHS library while working on finishing his bachelor’s degree. “The kids are working hard and they are dedicated to becoming an outstanding cheer team.”
Three days a week – Monday through Wednesday – the group meets in the Dance Studio inside the GCHS gymnasium to practice from 5 to 6:30 a.m. They work on current yells and stunts while also preparing new cheers and stunts for future athletic competitions.
The 21-member squad has seven seniors with the remaining 14 a mix of juniors, sophomores and freshmen, Harper said. All 21 cheer at home and away football games and then the squad is split for home basketball games.
Harper is a native of Mooreland, Okla., where he attended high school and grew up with a mother who coached cheer for 13 years. He was a high school cheerleader from seventh to 12th grades and then continued the path through his college years at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. He also cheered at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
He moved to Dodge City in early 2017 and was the assistant dance and cheer coach at Dodge City Community College. In 2017, the DCCC cheer group won the Cheer of America College Nationals championship in Kansas City, Mo.
“I had done some all-star cheer competitively and was also involved in Junior Olympics Power Tumbling,” Harper said.
Harper said his goal of acquiring a bachelor’s degree would require another nine hours of class, resulting in a degree in Wildland Fire Ecology and also in Parks and Recreation Management.
His journey to the GCHS position was unexpected until some parents at his Fusion Athletics facility indicated there was an opening with the Buffaloes. He applied and was hired in early 2019.
Tryouts for the varsity/junior varsity/freshman squad took place in early April and the members who made the team began practicing in mid-April for the 2019-20 school year.
“We put in a lot of hours through April into mid-May, and then practiced a lot in June and went to camp sponsored by National Cheerleading Association at Oklahoma State University (Stillwater),” Harper said. “We learned a lot of new stuff there to bring back and I think the kids were excited to see what all they could perform. It was a lot of new material.”
Harper said teaching the cheer squad and for them to have a strong retention of the different cheers and stunts was one of the more challenging aspects of the position.
“There’s so much material to learn and it’s difficult sometimes for them to remember everything,” Harper said. “But over time, they’ve done a great job of knowing what to do. The hardest part for them is learning the stunting.”
Tumbling skills is one of the highest areas that Harper evaluates during the tryouts, while also looking for flexibility for the flyers (the ones who are tossed into the air). He looks for strong base skills for the cheerleaders in the back spots. In addition, leadership and community activism is encouraged.
“We want them to have a positive game day attitude and experience,” Harper said. “We try to figure out which athletes can fit with which groups.”
There are strict guidelines and regulations that come from the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the state’s governing body for athletics and activities, and Harper said some of the stunts that the group performs are a matter of making or missing certain moves in a stunt.
“We could just barely be off in a stunt and it would be illegal,” Harper said. “So we have to be very precise about how we perform our moves.”
Harper selected three seniors as captains for this school year – Taylor Newsome, Samantha Rhodes and Grace Reagle. Those three provide the leadership and experience for the younger cheer squad members.
This fall, Harper and his squad is preparing for Teal Fest, a southwest Kansas showcase event hosted by Fusion Athletics. It is set for Oct. 20 and will either be held at GCHS or at Horace Good Middle School. The group also is pointing to November when they will travel to Topeka to participate in the KSHSAA Game Day Competition.
“We’re always trying to learn new and innovative stunts and cheers,” Harper said. “The kids do a great job and are committed to bring a great experience to the events in which they cheer.”