“WE’RE WILD AND FREE, WE’RE THE CLASS OF 43!”
It took us a bit but the 8 of us created a cheer for our class. Most of the time we had a line before the one above, it was either we’re looking good, or it was we’re feeling good. None of us really could remember. So I am making an executive decision for the class of 43…our chant for future Alumni dinners will be just the 2 lines. Agreed? Good.
This was how our troop rolled. Everyone was pretty laid-back. When we had our first meeting, Kiley Zankowski, from the Iowa Great Lake Chamber, called it the orientation. We were waiting for someone to arrive…after this story you can tell me which one of the eight of us it was! While we were waiting, Kiley mentioned that we could pick our letters. The group kind of looked at each other and started discussing the pros and cons of the letters but no one moved a muscle to claim one. Later, we were discussing the schedule. Kiley asked if there are any of the events on the three page list that any of us would like to go to for sure. Silence. Easy going!
To be honest, I was a bit nervous. We might be the group that just rides around on the bus and have it go in circles because no one will take the lead to say, “This is what we are going to do.”
The Thursday before the week of Winter Games the Chamber hosts a Alumni dinner. Everyone that has EVER been a cheerleader is invited. Cool side note, Brad’s mom, Collette Travis was a cheerleader in 1991. This makes Brad a second generation cheerleader; you think one of my girls will come back to live in this piece of heaven on earth and become one as well? That would be fun!
I better back up. We need to know who the cheerleaders for 2023 are before we get into the fun festivities, right?
For those of you that don’t know. Starting on December 1, you are able to nominate a person or couple to be an Okoboji Cheerleader. After December 31, the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber compiles the nominations and the voting begins. Anyone can vote….just once. Ask my fellow Lake Life designer how many times she voted? I should say anyone can vote as many times as they have email addresses.
Funny thing…the Chamber doesn’t call to ask you if you accept your nomination. I was getting text messages from friends with Brad and my picture saying "Winter Games Nominee." WHAT? I didn’t even know. During the voting process, I tried to think of who would have nominated us. I was bold enough to ask a few people if it was them. But the answer was always no. Then Brad comes home from school and he says I figured it out. It was the Cunningham’s. I told Rob and Kayla, why wouldn’t you tell us so we could nominate you. Then we would have a whole day to hang out together. To be honest, I was nervous for 8 strangers to come together and make a day out of it. Our group had 2 sets of couples and then 4 individuals. I believe all of us knew of each other, just didn’t KNOW each other. Leave it to the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber to bring groups together…8 by 8. Coming in as acquaintances, leaving as great friends! I should have never doubted!
It’s about time…right? Let’s meet Class of 43’s cheer squad.
Cheer Boss - Scott Nolte, Sports Director, KUOO
O - Alyssa Umscheid, Teacher, Okoboji Middle School
K - Laurie Simington, Director of Marketing,
Farmers Savings Bank
O - Sheree Sanderson, Realtor®, EXIT Realty Midwest
B - Brad Simington, President, Farmers Savings Bank
O - Cathy Thee, Be Radiant, Owner
J - Brad Travis, Art Teacher, Spirit Lake High School
I - Your one and only, me…Susan Travis
Back to the Alumni Dinner. This year it was held at Oak Hill Outdoor in Milford—what a great venue for this dinner. Instantly, when I walked in I was humbled. Looking around, there were the leaders from our community, from teachers, to judges, to presidents, to business owners. They were all there and I was now among them.
A couple of the people in my group mentioned they were nervous. It would be our first time to do our cheer. I said what is there to be nervous about, all of these people have been in our same shoes, they know how it is. And then suddenly I was nervous.
We cheered the O-K-O-B-O-J-I cheer. Our group then was exiting stage right and Micheal the co-chair of the event says…do you have another cheer? Sheree responds and says, “Ah, yeah we are working on that.” Well that was humiliating. Kiley mentioned to come up with a cheer or two, but we all looked at each other at that orientation meeting and then boom we were at the alumni dinner with nothing planned.
During this alumni dinner mixed with our orientation meeting, we know that there is a beloved year…It’s the class of 2019. During the weekend, you may or may not have heard from our group….”I don’t need to one up anyone, but really…are we better than 2019?” Sorry 2019, it truly is a compliment!
The week arrives! On Thursday night, we open up the weekend at the Battle of the Bartenders hosted by Parks Marina. The Marina hosts this in their HUGE warehouse, where they store boats. I don’t even want to ask where they put all the boats that were in there. It is an amazing place to have a party in this large scale. It’s just HUGE! Debbie had announced that this was the 10th year of the Battle of the Bartenders. She mentioned 10 years ago they were trying to figure something out for the “locals” to start off the Winter Games together. And they came up with this charity event, Battle of the Bartenders. In those 10 years, they had raised so much. 2023’s Battle of Bartenders raised $25,000, alone. Take that 2019!
Friday the events started, the cheerleaders closed out the Get up and Go show, hosted by the Ritz, on KUOO at 10:50 with a couple of cheers, including the old-y but good-y O-K-O-B-O-J-I. But also included a chant for The Ritz and then closed with a KUOO Okoboji cheer. I still didn’t know what I really had in store for myself for the weekend. But the energy level and excitement at the Ritz that morning, I knew it was going to be a fun weekend!
The cheerleaders reconvened at the Chili Cook-off held at the Spirit Lake Expo Center. This event has always been one of my favorites. Just a tip. Get there early, otherwise the only types of chili left will be the ones that will melt your face off. The 2023 Winter Games Chili Cook-off winner was Spirit Lake Noon Kiwanis.
Now this brings us to Saturday. Today is OUR day! We had only three times and three different places that we HAD to be at in order to keep Kiley happy, and the rest of the time was OUR time!
We started out our morning at the Boy Scout’s Pancake Feed. Wonderful pancakes, maybe even better sausages served with the pancakes. Then with our bellies full, we headed down to the Pavilion in Arnolds Park for the first of three MUST BE ON TIME OR ELSE. The 5K Fun Run was checking in, grabbing their t-shirt and getting warmed up to run. Warmed up is the key. This year for winter games it was COLD! Funny what people will do for a t-shirt! Maybe there is more to it than that. I am guessing I will never know, because you will never find me registering to run in the winter….probably not in the spring, summer or fall either, but that is besides the point.
**BEFORE YOU READ FUTHER! I would like to make a shout out to our Red O. Take a look at her picture. Isn't she the cutest as can be? Throughout this review, you may see each of the cheerleaders are labeled. Usually accidentally, but their personality rings out, and Alyssa, she was the leader of our pack! She made sure there wasn't any fun left behind!
Back to the 5K Fun Run...The shot gun start will go off at 9 am. But not until the Cheerleaders give them a good cheer before they go! Our directions were, cheer and then hurl yourself off the street, because the people will be coming. At this time, the snow just started coming down. It was actually quite beautiful for the pictures. I don’t think it felt so beautiful running in it. And it was slippery. I don’t know how those runners did it! But they all headed out happy, some looked more serious, some looked like they might have lost a bet and others brought their dogs and were having a delightful time starting.
After seeing the runners go by, we headed over to the Green Space to give the human foosball players a cheer or two. What a fun event. With the fresh snowfall, there were drifts inside of the game boxes. I was thinking that might be a disadvantage to one of the teams. But everyone was having a great time. Some were dressed up in amazing snowsuits, while others were having as much fun in their regular snow gear and of course, some fun competition.
After that, we all grabbed our beverages and snacks we brought and hopped on the Rides bus. What a way to see all and everything Winter Games! Rides donates that bus from 9 am - 3 pm to haul around the U of O Winter Games Cheerleaders! It includes the bus driver and ours was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
We headed over to Spirit Lake, first stopping at the Ritz on our way by. We ran into the front door in letter order, doing our cheer! We said "Hi!" to the softball bracket keepers and then headed outside to give the teams a good cheer, that is once we got Sheree out of the Ritz. She knows everyone!
We then went under Hwy 71 through the tunnel by the Ritz to see the Broomball players. These guys are INTENSE! Serious Broomballers! And when you turn around, you see the village of ice shacks. The little town was starting to wake up and getting their snowmobiles and ATVs up and running. There were also some “sleds” that were carrying couches or a bar. Funniest thing was watching four people being pulled around by a side-by-side belly up to a bar, acting like they were at Captains or something! I tried to get the Cheerleaders to go find someone with a couch so we could be pulled. But I didn't’ get anyone talked into it.
Instead, we headed over by the Rotary Car Drop Car. This car is placed on the ice every year as a fundraiser event for the local Rotary Club. The tickets are $10 a piece and it is a $1000 cash prize, and each ticket has a time on it that the buyer of the ticket is hoping the car will drop on! So many here in the spring keep their eyes on the live cameras over that part of the lake to watch it go down.
As we went by the car, Alyssa tried to do a “Duke’s of Hazard” slide across the front. But she tried sliding over it with her stomach down. She made a run for it and then it was like she landed on sticky paper. She tried it multiple times but she would just stick. Brad Simington announces for everyone to move aside and slides right across the front on his butt! Before we know it, Sheree is getting hoisted up to get inside the car. Brad Travis climbs to the top of the car and the rest of us get a spot and lean in for a picture.
Did I mention? We had our own personal photographer for our journeys! Rocky Thompson weathered the cold with us and captured amazing photos of us throughout the Lakes area. Looking back, I feel the goal for the cheerleaders is to take pictures of your letters in as many places possible. Fun places, cold places, hot places, wild places, competitive places, adventurous places, new places and old places.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! - Dr. Suess
We have so many more places we needed to hit before we needed to be back to the Polar Plunge, our #2 spot of three MUST BE ON TIME OR ELSE. Right before we hopped back onto the bus, we saw the opportunity to play a little softball ourselves. I pitched a couple to Brad Travis, as he tried to hit the ball through Cathy’s O, once even using his letter J as the bat! No time for play, we must continue to go….Can someone tell Sheree we are getting back on the bus?
We headed over to the Park’s Marina property. We went and saw the flag football players play, saw some of the side-by-sides racing out in front of the Barefoot Bar and even took our pictures in front of the Red Bull cars. We headed out of the cold and into Park's Marina's huge boat storage building. The time is flying by and it is nearly lunch time. Sheree has the connections, as we have found out she knows everyone, but her connection to Jersey Mikes was a huge score. Her son and son-in-law own the newly opened Jersey Mikes in Spirit Lake, and they treated us to amazing subs! Thank you Jersey Mikes!
We hung out in the warm building for just a bit. A band was just going to start up, so we got to join them on stage and do a cheer. Alyssa made snow angels with Herky. Both mascots for Iowa and Iowa State were there. Herky and Cy had a great almost sibling annoyance to each other. We tried to take a picture with both and they kept moving right when we were going to take it to be right in front of the other.
Once again bellies are full and still so much to see. We hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Arnolds Park. Paul, our bus driver dropped us off at Okoboji Boat Works. This traffic…and snow! Paul is a heck of a bus driver that is for sure. He got us into small places, hilly places, snowy places, anything to get us as close as we could. At Okoboji Boat Works, EXIT Realty was hosting Smooshing Races, so Sheree wanted to make sure to give them a cheer! We had just missed the “Strut Your Mutt” Dog Show that was at OBW, but we got to see some stragglers there. They were cute!
Right next to the Smooshing Races, there was a large pile of snow. Kids had tubes and they were flying down it. Our adventurer Brad Simington suggests we go to the top and take our picture on the top. So here we go, climbing up with our oversized letters this gigantic mountain of snow. The very top there was less than a foot of flat space to stand and it was all uneven. I thought for sure I would be tumbling down head over heels. But all eight of us got to the top. Rocky Thompson went to take our picture and yelled up “YOUR BACKWARDS.” Seriously!?!? Come on! We all thought of trying to shuffle bodies from one end to the other but like I said there was not room enough to do so. For the first time of the day I got to be the O! Laurie Simington is a quick thinker and our voice of reason. She recommended us just passing letters.
Now picture was done. How do you suggest going down. Brad Travis was first; he just sat down letter held high and slid on his butt. Brad Simington, shortly after, did the same. It wasn’t a smooth hill. In my head I was thinking we still have a lot left of our day. If I go breaking my tailbone, it will be a rough ending. As all of this is rolling through my head, fearless, Cathy Thee sat down and followed suit. So, I stopped thinking and sat down, closed my eyes and screamed all the way down. I laid at the bottom for a moment to take inventory on anything that feels like it might be bruised. And nothing! Got up just in time to look up at Sheree. She had yelled down to one of the kids to throw her up a tube. They reluctantly did, but she promised them she would give it back. She made her self comfortable inside the tube feet facing forward and butt in the hole, almost ready to push herself forward when she got off balance and there she goes….down backwards. Cathy and I were laughing so hard until we saw Brad Simington rush to see if she needed help. He picked her up and she was laughing as hard as Cathy and I were and just said “I don’t know what happened, one moment I was on the top and the next moment I was heading backwards down the hill.” She gave the tube back to the boys and we all headed back to the bus.
We had just a short time before we needed to get to the Polar Plunge and our Ride’s bus would leave us for good. We thought we had one more stop in us. So we headed to West O. We thought maybe we would see the tail end of the Stump Tournament and just give a good O-K-O-B-O-J-I cheer at one of the great sponsors of the Winter Games. While we were there, they gave us each a sample of one of their beers they had on tap. Scott had something else on his mind. He asked the guy behind the bar if he could try his hand at bartending. SURE! So, Scott was all smiles pouring a drink for a lad at the bar.
Our bus driver, Paul, knew we had to get us back to the Polar Plunge so we made double time to get back to the Park. We bid Paul farewell and was every sad to see the bus leave. But we started to hear a chant for the Cheerleaders. The Polar Plunge participants were ready to go, and they didn’t want to wait for the Cheerleaders any longer!
We get down to where they cut out a hole. Rescue people were already in; they were ready to go. IT WAS SO COLD! WE did our cheer and they started to jump. Even though it was SO cold, 135 people jumped. Some dressed up in full outfits and others just in bikinis and speedos. Doing the Polar Plunge has always been on my bucket list. I think I am going to wait to fulfill this on a VERY mild winter. Watching these people in line for the plunge was like watching someone getting tortured. Sheree and Cathy both gave up their coats to a couple of kids that were waiting in line and looking like they were moments away from frostbite. Speaking of frostbite, Brad Travis and Scott started cheering: "We say FROST you say BITE…FROST…BITE…FROST…BITE." I silenced them saying, “you are not helping!” Sheree and Cathy got their coats back and we decided we had enough of watching this torture. We headed up the Promenade to check out all the happenings on Broadway Street.
Oh, I must not forget one of my most favorite parts! The Boji Kites! These kites are SO BIG! They are so fun to watch from close by or even far away. We stopped for a picture on our way up by the Boji Kites sign. Those guys work so hard putting up so many kits. I bet there was over 50 kites up. The kites are just amazing.
We made our way up to the Emporium and made it to The Gardens. Once again, Scott gets us up on their stage to do a cheer. The Gardens was so packed you were butt to butt and nose to nose to strangers. We lost Sheree….again. We started yelling for the BLUE O. Then Scott mentioned she gave me her O. So now Scott is not only the Cheer Boss (Cheer boss leads our cheer) But he also holds up Sheree’s O. After our cheer, I look at my phone and saw a text from the missing O, Sheree. It said “I’m out on the patio. I have eight drinks. I need 20 more dollars.” I died. Of all the things this one struck me to be the most funny thing that happened this weekend. We get out to the patio and sure enough she has 8 drinks and standing, talking to three college age guys at an ice bar waiting for us to grab our drink.
Everywhere we went it seemed to me that Sheree knew everyone. Come to find out, she does know a lot of people but when she doesn’t know anyone she just starts talking to them like she had known them forever. What a gal!
We needed to keep moving, still so much to see before the Burning of the Greens, the third and final MUST BE ON TIME OR ELSE event we had for the day.
Thank goodness our Cheer Boss was Scott. He is a celebrity himself! Most of the time people don’t know it though, until he talks and then they say SCOTT NOLTE? I hear you on the radio all the time! With that voice he can get us into anywhere. We made a stop at Captains, Tank Anthony Acoustic was playing, they were amazing!!! Scott went up and asked if we could get up on stage with them and do a cheer. They said sure and up we go with the colored spotlights and with our bright letters, we looked amazing!
We headed back down the hill to the “warming room,” which is an office space in the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum. We had dropped all of our stuff there when we got off the bus. We ate the rest of the Jersey Mike’s subs that we had left and the snacks that we brought, but just hadn't had time to enjoy them while on the bus.
During this time, we reminisced over the day that was just gone in a flash. How eight of us strangers came together and now feel as though we are the best of friends, and even the discussion of getting together again a couple times a year. New friendships formed that I know we will pick up where we left off that day, even if our paths don’t cross until then.
The time has come, we need to do our cheer one last time. The sun has gone down, and the people are gathered around the big pile of old Christmas Trees for the bonfire to begin.
Our Cheer Boss starts us off and the crowd is the best of the day. Cheering a Big O, then a K, O, B, O, J…..There is a loud bang. I look down. He did do it. It is rumored that Brad Travis, a guy that played football as a lineman, was a big shot and disc thrower and now coaches both Football and Track at Spirit Lake can do the splits. He isn’t the body type that you would think can do it, and that's what makes it so fun. Usually every year for his track kids, while he is showing them some stretching, he falls into it and the kids' mouths drop and it is over before they can get to their phones. His splits have never been photographed, maybe that is why it seems to be such a myth. Rocky got a picture of it earlier that day and Kiley got not only a picture but a video of it that night!
Meanwhile, I am sure Cheer Boss has shouted out the letter "I" along with the rest of the crowd so I shake my head, smile and hold up my I!
The eight of us along with our 2 Co-chairs, Rachel Fandel and Michael Meyers, head in with our burning torches and surround the trees. We throw them in. Blain Andera, the CEO of the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber & Commerce, did mention, this is the moment you just want to take it all in. Be apart of the experience. He was right! It was nearly magical. I walked around, found Brad and did just that. It was kind of an odd feeling. How did I even get here? How humbling it was that Brad and I were nominated. The community voted us in and we got to experience the U of O Winter Games in a whole new way. What an honor. And ending it with my family was a perfect ending. Right on the edge were our 2 girls, Lauren and Fran, along with Fran's Landon. I felt like the luckiest gal, new friends, the best Winter Games experience, and I get to end it with my family! Thank you Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. What an amazing event you put on each year!
Cheerleaders of ’43…what do you say about getting that dinner out, on the calendar?