2016 NDA National Championship

2016 NDA National Championship

Pen Pals & Forever Friends

The dance teams from Olathe North High School (Olathe, KS) and Napa High School (Napa, CA) are bringing new life to an old school practice – pen pals. Over time and through countless conversations, the athletes have discovered that their shared passion unites them in ways they never could have imagined. The dancers and coaches have gotten more out of the program than they could have ever dreamed. And, they’ve grown from distant pals to forever friends.


Pen Pal: a person with whom one becomes friendly by exchanging letters, especially someone in a distant location, whom one has never met.

How did it all go down? Well, the head coach of Napa High School, Angie Ruiz, made a trip to Olathe, Kansas years ago. Accompanied by Napa’s captains at the time, she worked with Sara Heptig, Olathe’s head coach, to teach choreography. Upon their union, they realized that both of their teams would benefit from a little candid conversation. And at that moment, their pen pal program was born.

Napa’s Spirit Director, Hollie Schmidt, writes about how the pen pal program holds a special place in her heart:

“The pen pal program has been such a rewarding experience. The dancers write each other throughout the year, follow each other on social media and ultimately – meet at Nationals. Getting real "mail" and opening it at practice has been such a joy to witness, for both the J.V. and Varsity athletes. I must say – shadowing another team’s journey has been a huge highlight of our own.

From enduring hours of cleaning and balancing school and dance, to powering through final preparations and conquering nerves, all of the girls relate on many levels. At Nationals, our teams make every effort to watch one another, to cheer them on and show support as they take the stage. Seeing friendly, familiar faces adds another touch of positivity to the overall experience.

Some of the pairs have been pals for the past 2 years, so there’s some real bonding that takes place. The Varsity team does a gift exchange, usually something homemade like bows or key chains. Our J.V. dancers dream of the day that they’re on Varsity and get to meet their pen pal in person. 

Not only is this a memorable experience for the competitors, but also for the parents of both teams. They greet each other at the venue, meet new friends and cheer extra loud for their children. It allows all of us to feel a sense of community and camaraderie.

The first year we had it all arranged to meet after a prelims. However, when we were in the on deck area, an Olathe member came running over to her pen pal, Vanessa, and before I knew it – the two teams were mingling, giggling and hugging. I was speechless and tearing up as Coach Sara came around the corner, too. What should have been the most stressful moment, waiting backstage, became a beautiful send off of smiles and good wishes for our Nationals performance. I wish every team could experience that! -- Angie Ruiz, Head Coach

Overall, we believe that the program teaches good sportsmanship. Also, it reminds our athletes that every team has their own special story and a journey to be celebrated. It has been a great experience and one we plan to continue the tradition!”

Technology has transformed us into digital communicators. Thank you notes and birthday cards dwindle, as online platforms grow. However, there’s still something to be said about an old-fashioned, postmarked letter – the anticipation, thrill and personal touch. Sharing and preserving words in this way create documented memories that will stand the test of time.

Perhaps it’s time for your team to try something new, reach out to a group of athletes and experience this journey together. The result – friendship, support and a network outside of your social circle, will certainly make the unconventional effort worthwhile.