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#AnythingButSoft: How Cheers from the Bench Keep Energy High

The Delta Park public address system was blaring dance music while officials lined the field before the NWAC softball championship game. Mt. Hood Community College's Jazmayne Williams heard the beat and couldn't contain herself. She danced out of the dugout, exchanging wiggles with her teammates on her way to home plate where she full-on felt her groove. She finished by swinging her arms toward the opposing dugout and pointing her fingers with a laugh. 

It was a pre-game dance-off throw down.

The players on the Douglas side circled around and shared some giggles, and a few fans attempted to get someone to respond. But in the end, no one did.

It was like a child seeing happy kids spill out of a water slide only to be too afraid to climb the steps to enjoy the ride himself.

“That was such a valuable moment, especially for all the little fans,” Saints coach Meadow McWhorter said. “It showed everyone that while this is a big game, it is still just a game, so let's laugh and have some fun.”

It also showed that Mt. Hood was loose and ready to play — not at all intimidated by the big stage.

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That has been the role of the "Auz and Jazz" show for this year's championship team — to keep things loose and loud.

“Auz” is rookie Maddy Newkirk. She grew up playing cricket in Wauchope — a logging and dairy town about five hours north of Sydney, Australia. She arrived at Mt. Hood CC after playing a couple years of high school softball in Olympia, Washington.

“Jazz” is a native of Oahu, Hawaii, and came to Mt. Hood CC to play volleyball. While on her campus visit, she was exploring campus when she settled onto the bleachers to watch the softball team practice. McWhorter noticed they had a visitor, introduced herself and soon the school had its newest two-sport athlete.

You don't watch the Saints play, as much as you hear them play.

Close your eyes and the chants will tell you what's happening on the field. Auz and Jazz have created a playlist of more than 30 shouts, songs, and routines, and they are constantly adding to and shifting the lineup.

“We're crazy and creative — we like to come up with stuff,” Jazz said.

Auz has brought a special Down Under flavor to the proceedings and is greeted with, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy, Oy, Oy!” whenever she makes a plate appearance.

When an opposing pitcher throws a wild one you are likely to hear "Holy, Holy Banya."

What exactly is Banya?

It's not referring to the Seinfeld character Kenny Bania — the struggling comedian, who refuses to order a meal. Instead, it's simply a made-up word that sounded right for the chant.

“We make up a lot of words in Australia — it's just silliness,” Auz said.

The chants are catchy.

“We'll walk around and hear other teams using our cheers, and I know they are ours, because I brought them here from Australia,” Auz said. “Earlier at this tournament, we heard a team use one and they kept 'Hood' as a part of it.”

The Saints dugout looks like a sinking ship with all of the players crowded together in a mass at one end of the cage.

McWhorter got into the mix this year after seeing a home run routine used by her alma mater, Jacksonville State. She purchased a large plastic bucket — something you would throw ice and water bottles into — and it became the team drum. Now, when someone knocks one over the fence, Jazz hammers out a beat and the rest of the team hops back and forth like lemmings in the dugout.

“We were banging on it so hard, we put a crack in it the first time we used it,” Jazz laughs.

But does all of the boisterousness actually change anything on the field?

“We've always been obnoxiously loud, whether we're up 10 or down 10, our energy shouldn't change,” McWhorter said. “The sole purpose is for us to create an electric atmosphere — it forces everybody to be checked in.”

Earlier this season, Auz and Jazz were both away warming up pitchers when McWhorter noticed a lull on her bench. Quiet is a strange sound for this team. The coach immediately sent for Auz and Jazz to return to the dugout — the noise was back, the team's energy restored.

“Being loud and getting jacked has a bigger impact on the game than people think,” Auz said. “If you see a quiet dugout, you are looking at a down team.”

The Saints knocked off Douglas 7-2 in this year's championship game, marking the fifth Northwest title for McWhorter and Mt. Hood CC over the last eight years.

From GameChanger and David Ball.

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