OREM — Kenzie Firth wasn't sure what her coach had in mind when she suggested their "character" drill performance be about the homeless.
"Usually character dances are flashy, showy and upbeat," said the 17-year-old Bonneville senior. "We didn't really know what to expect."
And then her coaches asked them to do more than memorize dance steps. Coaches asked the girls to volunteer in the Ogden valley where they live and suddenly the message began to make more sense. On Friday, the girls hoped to send a message when they performed their routine to "Prayer of the Children."
Working with the poor and homeless changed the way the girls viewed other people, but also how they saw their own lives. She said people she used to overlook now garner her attention and her empathy.
"I think about what it would be like to lose everything, to have nothing, and it's a whole different feeling," Firth said.
Head coach Lindsey Judkins and her assistants Lexi Kirkbride and Brittany Ryan said they wanted the girls to be inspired and reflective when they danced the routine.
"We thought it would be good for the girls to get to know something other than dance," said Judkins.
Added Ryan, "I think it's changed them."
Judkins agreed, saying the experience humbled them, especially one in which they were asked to tell each other stories of working with the community.
Firth said the experience helped her wake up and "realize how other people" suffer.
"Obviously, we take things for granted," she said. "I say thank you for everything now. There are people out there among you who don't have anything, so don't take things for granted. You could lose it."
Sophomore Maddy Samuels said she hoped the audience would relate and connect with their message.
"We hope to bring it all to life," she said.
Added Judkins, "Obviously we hope to win, but we hope more for it to have an impact."
Bonneville ended up winning third in character and in the overall in the 4A competition. Bountiful repeated as champions by sweeping every category. Hillcrest was second in every category and took home the silver trophy. Mountain Crest finished fourth and Salem Hills earned fifth place in the overall.
For most of the teams, the challenges come from trying to work together and create something completely unique.
"We have creative minds," said Brenda Searle, who along with Mechele Bosco, coaches the Hillcrest squad. "That's what we like the most about it. We love the show, coming up with the music, the concept."
Bosco said a team's chemistry is critical to success.
"We do a lot of team building all year long," she said. "We have lots of fun. They've been fabulous. We could not have asked for more. It's such a subjective sport."
In 5A, Bingham won its third-straight title with second place in dance, third place in military and first place in character. Copper Hills was second overall, while Syracuse was third, Hunter was fourth and Cottonwood finished fifth overall.
On Saturday, South Sevier won the 2A title with two first-place finishes and a second-place finish. Duchesne won its ninth title in a row in the 1A competition, while Uintah won the 3A title.
"These girls are such athletes," said South Sevier head coach Kelli Barton. "They do everything other athletes do, but they have to do it with a smile on their face. This is what we've worked for."
Barton and her assistant coaches, Shauna Blake and Nicole Ogden said they hope the girls are more prepared for life after competing in drill for four years.
"We hope they learn life lessons — be prepared, love each other, work hard and coming together when things are tough," said Barton.