The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 10, 2013

Wildfire director and seniors reach milestones

Star Beacon

— For the past quarter of a century, Mary Murtha’s Wildfire Dance teams have competed in the Showcase America national competition and come home with many trophies that confirm their dedication and hard work to the program.

This year, both Murtha and her students came home with something extra. The seniors, for the first time in Wildfire’s history, returned with a 6-foot-tall Grand Champion trophy. And Murtha came back to town as the “director of the year.”

Murtha, who started the dance business 33 years ago, quickly turns the conversation back to her students, however.

“It was pretty amazing because our seniors won gold and grand champion,” Murtha said. Wildfire draws students from five school districts: Madison, Geneva, Buckeye, Ashtabula and Conneaut.

Showcase America, which dates back to 1985, is one of numerous competition events in which dance teams can compete at state and national levels.

Murtha said her junior and senior teams qualified two weeks ago at the state competition. The senior teams took first in pom, second in jazz and lyrical, and third in kick. The junior team took first in lyrical and kick, second in pom and third in jazz.

Spring break gave the 35 junior girls and 18 seniors a week to prepare for the competition, Murtha said. Murtha said that the teams practiced five hours a day, which required stamina and dedication on the girls’ part and patience and commitment from the parents who had to get the girls to and from practice.

Parental commitment also came into play when it came time to leave for the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Murtha said they normally hire a bus when they go to regional events, but for the national events, the parents drove.

The competition drew teams from several states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Indiana. Murtha estimates that there were 30 to 40 teams competing. Only those teams that placed first, second or third at their state competitions were eligible.

She said their strongest competitor is Oak Hill High School, a Cincinnati powerhouse that experiences the heat of Wildfire at both the state and national competitions.

At this year’s national competition, Murtha’s juniors, grades six to nine, took first in kick and lyrical, and second in jazz and pom. The seniors, grades nine to 12, won first in pom and lyrical; second in jazz and kick.

Murtha said the competition also awards placement medals for high-score totals. Her juniors won the silver in pom; the seniors took gold in pom.

The grand champion award  that went to the seniors was the result of them having the highest total of scores in the competition.

Murtha, who does all the choreography herself, says she is assisted by several coaches in the program, which offers dance for students as young as 3. She offers the classes in the Wildfire Dance Center — the former St. Mary’s School in Conneaut. She also has classes one day at week at Superior Elementary School in Ashtabula.

The dance teams have one more big weekend ahead of them before another year comes to a close. They will perform recitals of their winning routines at Lakeside High School on May 17 to 19. Four performances will be offered.