When Sapulpa Ping Ping head coach Molly Heritage and assistant coach Jenny Gardella talk about the 26 girls on their team, their pride is palpable. They talk about the hours and hours of demanding work and training the team puts in almost year-round and praise them for their accomplishments, such as their recent National Championship win February in Orlando, Florida.
Heritage says “It’s the most rewarding job. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it!” Gardella agrees and says that “Getting to know the girls” is the best part of her two years as their assistant coach.
For the first place national championship win, the team competed against 206 routines from 70 schools at the varsity level, including 9 fellow Oklahoma schools, Edison, Broken Arrow, Owasso, Bixby, Moore, West Moore, Sand Springs, Union Pom, and Woodward.
Heritage and Gardella raved about the excellence of their competition, singling out Woodward, a 5A school, which they will face next fall at State.
In Orlando at the Dance Team Union nationals, teams must first qualify in preliminaries before being able to compete in the main competition. Sapulpa took 3 performances with them and went straight through prelims with all three and placed in all three. They won 5th place in Small Varsity Jazz with 7 dancers (competing against 34 other teams), 2nd place in Varsity High Kick with 18 dancers, and 1st place in Varsity Team Performance with 20 dancers, making them official National Champions.
At the Oklahoma State Dance Team Directors’ Association (OSDTDA, “State”) competition on December 14 at the Cox Convention Center in Tulsa, it was clear the Pings were going to be the team to beat this year in Florida. They placed in 6 dances: 1st place in Overall Kick 6A, 1st place Overall Mix 6A, 1st place in Overall Mix high point, 2nd in Ensemble, they had 6 girls qualify to perform their solo routines (a huge accomplishment in itself, as OSDTDA only takes around 20% of those who enter), and they had the highest kick score overall at the entire competition.
The 6 qualifying soloists were Abby Heritage (Molly’s sister), Gracie Folger, Jaylan Martin, Libby Chaffin, Ryann Hoey, and Brooklyn Berry. Berry took 2nd place in the Intermediate (freshman and sophomore) Solo category.
All the choreography is created by head coach Heritage. Gardella critiques, cleans, and polishes the all-important details and ensures each member is synchronized with one another. Both coaches are former Ping Pings themselves (class of 2009 and 2012, respectively), so their standards and expectations are rather high.
The team is funded through a combination of help from the Booster Club, fundraisers, and sponsors. They are grateful to the community for their help in ensuring they have only to focus on their performance.
The Pings are no strangers to hard work and sweat. They practice for hours a day, 11 months a year, not only as a team at the school but also at their home dance studios in their regular classes. Their only time off is the month of June. In July, they learn competition choreography and begin preparation for football season sideline and halftime routines. The serious competition rehearsal that makes them a national-championship contender begins as football season winds down, in early November.
There is so much talent on the 26-member team that although the entire group performs in year-round pep rallies, assemblies, basketball and football games and halftimes, various appearances at other schools and events, and some competitions, only those who make a further series of auditions compete in the National Championship routines.
The Ping Pings were founded during the 1971-1972 school year as another group to foster school spirit at athletic events. The name came about after a long, chilly outdoor practice when one of the girls commented that they were bouncing around like ping pong balls. The name stuck, and the dancers have been known as the Ping Pings (or “The Pings”) since. Always a part of the marching band, the Pings continue to march with them at parades and pre-game events, but are no longer stationed in front of the bandstand during football games or compete with them.
If you or a dancer you know want to get involved with the Ping Pings, stay in touch with their Facebook or Instagram pages for upcoming clinic dates. They typically have one each fall and each spring for younger girls who want to know what being on the team is all about.
Auditions are held at the high school in April for incoming freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. To make the team you must have formal technical training and currently attend an area dance studio.
See Their National Championship-winning routine below:
Sapulpa has three outstanding dance studios if you or your children would like to take lessons. They are Patti Parrish School of Dance, Ovations Studio & Gym, and Art in Motion, all of which are staffed and taught by award-winning, professional, and dedicated dancers.