After the Bauxite Lady Miners dance team secured its fifth consecutive state championship, team choreographer Chelsea Tarver walked over to her mom, dance coach Charlotte Tarver, and gave her a fist bump.
“I had a ring of [my grandmother’s] on, and [my mom] had a ring on,” Chelsea said. “[My grandmother] would have been there, so it was definitely a much-needed win in that aspect.”
The state championship was held Nov. 11 at Bentonville West High School.
Judy Burton Bradford, Chelsea’s grandmother and Charlotte’s mom, died suddenly Sept. 25 after being involved in a two-car accident in Benton.
“My mom loved going [to the dance competitions],” Charlotte said. “She loved watching the girls and stuff.”
“She was a character, for sure,” Chelsea added.
After leaving the Bauxite gym and heading to her job on Sept. 25, Chelsea arrived at the scene of the accident inadvertently.
“I was headed to the studio, and I saw my cousin’s wife; she’s a nurse,” Chelsea said. “She came up to my window, and she told me that my grandmother was in the accident and had passed. And that’s how I found out.”
Chelsea said they were having trouble getting hold of her mom, so Chelsea drove back to the gym.
“Chelsea drives up, and she is hysterical,” Charlotte said.
“I drove back and told her. It was a really difficult time and very unexpected,” Chelsea said. “My family is very close. That is not something you just bounce back from.”
Senior dance captain Ceiren Watson, who plans to continue her dance career at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, said the team has gone through a lot this year.
“It’s been a rough year, so we have all had each other to lean on and to depend on,” Watson said. “When [Mrs. Tarver’s mother] passed away, [the coach] wasn’t here for a week.
“Me being captain, I had to kind of coach because she wasn’t at the capacity to do that. This year has been really tough, and we had to really listen to each other.”
Watson said Bradford’s death occurred right before competition season started.
“It hurt both of them,” Watson said of the Tarvers. “We were in the middle of learning a routine, and we couldn’t learn it anymore because Chelsea wasn’t OK.
“I think all the seniors stepped up. I know if I had to do it on my own, I would have been extremely overwhelmed.”
Charlotte, who has been coaching for more than 20 years at Bauxite High School, said the district was so supportive the weeks following her mother’s death.
“They brought all the senior high cheer and dance girls and the junior high cheer and dance girls to the funeral,” Charlotte said. “I appreciate the district doing that.”
Chelsea said the girls were all dressed in their uniforms for the funeral.
“That just meant more to my mom than anything,” Chelsea said. “This is her life. These are her kids. She loves them.
“It was such a difficult time, and we were working to get ready for state. She couldn’t have made it through without them.”
Chelsea said her grandmother would have loved the fact that all the dancers and cheerleaders were in uniform.
“It was like it was her own pep rally just for her,” Chelsea said. “She loved to be the center of attention. It was really cool that they were a part of it.”
Chelsea said that at the funeral, one of the workers came up to her and said, “I have never seen anything like this in all my years working here.”
“The love in that room from those girls was just unreal,” Chelsea said. “She pours into these kids like they are her own.
“She is the kind of coach I want to be.”
This season marks the second straight state championship for Charlotte. She also won two state titles as head dance coach when Chelsea was in high school.
Charlotte said her assistant and junior high coach, Rebecca Ragsdale, was a big help this season — especially after Charlotte’s mom died.
“She helped drive the girls to state,” Charlotte said. “She has been a big help.”
Chelsea graduated from Bauxite in 2006 and won three dance state championships during her three years as the senior high dance coach. Her last came in 2015-16, in which she won one each for co-ed cheerleading and dance. It marked the first time in 12 years that both the Bauxite cheerleaders and dance team had been named state champions.
Chelsea was also a Golden Girl, a member of the dance team, at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville before graduating in 2010.
“[My mom] is such a good person,” Chelsea said. “It is important for her to win, but it is more important how these girls turn out.”
Charlotte served as Chelsea’s assistant and junior high coach during her daughter’s state-title runs. Charlotte said she has been back and forth between senior high and junior high, even quitting for one season before becoming bored and returning to coaching.
“Personally, I think it is the passion,” Charlotte Tarver said of the school’s success. “I think it is the passion the girls have for it. I have a passion for it. I started the junior high dance team 20 years ago so more girls could be involved. …
“I have done it for a long time. I love the younger ones and love seeing them grow as dancers and athletes.”
Chelsea said working with her mom is hard at times, but it helps that they are related.
“If we argue about something, at the end of the day, we still love each other; we make up,” Chelsea said. “I see it as a blessing for sure. When you are the coach, there are so many others that you have to deal with.
“But I still boss them around as if they are mine.”
Charlotte, who was named coach of the year last year by the Arkansas Activities Association and coached the all-star team this past summer, said Chelsea is an “amazing choreographer.”
“She choreographed all four routines [that we performed at state],” Charlotte said. “But of the two of us, she is the meaner one.”
Bauxite senior Taylor King said she tried out for the dance team when she was in the seventh grade. She said the sudden death of Charlotte’s mom brought the team closer together.
“I think it taught us that sometimes we take things for granted,” King said. “And that we need to be more humble and work together and show more love toward each other and Mrs. Tarver.
“I think because of what happened, we started to work harder.”
King said she has not decided on where she wants to go to college yet, but once she does, she hopes to try out for the dance team.
“Winning state is amazing,” Charlotte said, “but I think these girls being a part of something is more amazing.
“We have 20 dancers, and there are 20 cheerleaders, so that is 40 girls that are involved in an athletic setting and get to compete. To me, that’s what we should be striving for as professionals and coaches.”
Charlotte said these dancers are building friendships that will last a lifetime.
“They get mad at each other, but they will be the first by your side if something happens,” Charlotte said.
“I want them to grow up to be strong Christian women,” Charlotte said. “That’s what we need.
“My faith does play a big part for why I do what I do. I hope I can teach these girls that sometimes life throws us curveballs, and we have to know how to deal with those things.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or email@example.com.