Cheer team’s jour­ney re­sults in state ti­tle

■ The team won the run­ner-up at the state com­pe­ti­tion on Dec. 13.

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - SPORTS - By Janelle Jessen Staff Writer [email protected]

In just five years, the Siloam Springs High School’s com­pet­i­tive cheer team has been on a jour­ney that took them from be­ing com­plete begin­ners to bring­ing home a state ti­tle.

The 28-mem­ber team earned run­ner-up at the 2018 4A-6A CoEd State Cham­pi­onship in Hot Springs on Dec. 15, scoring an 89.7, just a few points shy of Van Buren’s 91.8. Spring­dale High School placed third with a score of 85.7, fol­lowed by Bentonville High School with a score of 93.9.

This is the fifth year Siloam Springs has had a com­pet­i­tive cheer team and the fourth year they have gone to the state com­pe­ti­tion, ac­cord­ing to coach Jackie Cle­ment. The first year the team went to state they learned a lot, then came back and did bet­ter the sec­ond year. Last year, they placed third, which was a big im­prove­ment, she said.

“In four years, we’ve gone from noth­ing to be­ing state run­ner-up and that’s a huge deal, I mean these girls and guys have worked re­ally hard,” she said.

Un­like some other sports, com­pet­i­tive cheer does not have to qual­ify to com­pete at state. In­stead they par­tic­i­pate in a se­ries of com­pe­ti­tions through­out the sea­son that helps them un­der­stand where they stand and gives them in­sights on where im­prove­ment is needed.

The team had a suc­cess­ful sea­son be­fore the state com­pe­ti­tion this year. At the first com­pe­ti­tion of the year at Rogers Her­itage High, Siloam Springs came in sec­ond to Bentonville. At the sec­ond com­pe­ti­tion at Fayet­teville, the team came in first, then at the third com­pe­ti­tion at Gen­try, the team came in sec­ond to Spring­dale. At the fi­nal and largest com­pe­ti­tion be­fore state in Bentonville on Dec. 10, the team took first place, Cle­ment said.

“So when we were go­ing into state, we had our hopes up,” she said. “We were ready to go, we knew we just needed to hit a clean rou­tine and then the judges were just go­ing to be able to de­cide which rou­tine they liked best. That’s what hap­pened.”

In cheer lead­ing, teams will re­ceive de­duc­tions if they fall or if their tim­ing is off. Dur­ing the state com­pe­ti­tion, Siloam Springs’ de­duc­tion sheet showed they scored a 0 with no points taken away for mis­takes. It was the first time for the team to score a 0 at state, Cle­ment said.

“We hit the very best rou­tine we could hit and our com­pe­ti­tion — Van Buren, the one that won state cham­pion — they also hit a 0 so it ba­si­cally just came right down to what was the judges’ over­all im­pres­sion,” she said.

The team has set a goal of hear­ing their name called at state all year long, Cle­ment said.

“When they called us, we were just over­joyed,” she said. “I’m go­ing to get teary-eyed, only be­cause it’s been four or five years of blood, sweat and tears be­ing poured into this and my fam­ily has sac­ri­ficed a lot just like most all coaches do. … It was just an emo­tional time for me to know that we have worked so hard and this has fi­nally paid off, all the time and ef­fort and team build­ing and prac­tices and chang­ing rou­tines and look­ing at ev­ery fi­nite de­tail that we could had fi­nally paid off.”

In com­pet­i­tive cheer, teams have a to­tal of 2½ min­utes to do their rou­tine, in­clud­ing 1 minute of cheer and 1½ min­utes of dance.

“We have 2½ min­utes to do our best per­for­mance and in those 2½ min­utes we have to be build­ing, be tum­bling, be jump­ing, be danc­ing, just cram pack ev­ery­thing into 2½ min­utes so it takes a lot of en­durance and they have to be in shape,” Cle­ment said. “It’s a hard 2½ min­utes and when they get through, they’re to­tally spent.”

There are sev­eral mo­ments in the rou­tine that catch the crowd’s at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing a bas­ket toss in the be­gin­ning where four guys throw one of the cheer­lead­ers re­ally high in the air, as well as a mo­ment where se­nior Dal­ton Fer­gu­son throws a girl into the air then catches her stand­ing with both of her feet in one hand, Cle­ment said.

“No other team in the state can do that,” she said.

Fer­gu­son, a for­mer foot­ball player, came to the cheer team last year. This year, he de­cided to fo­cus solely on cheer be­cause it is more likely he will earn a col­lege schol­ar­ship in that sport, Cle­ment said. Fer­gu­son has be­come a leader on the team and the “go to per­son,” she said.

Fer­gu­son said he has de­vel­oped a pas­sion for cheer. He loves the sup­port and hard work of the peo­ple on his team as well as the en­cour­age­ment and sup­port from fans and friends. He plans to con­tinue cheer in col­lege and per­haps have a ca­reer in coach­ing, he said.

Fer­gu­son’s skills, and the abil­i­ties of the other ju­nior and se­nior boys and girls, caught the at­ten­tion of col­lege re­cruiters at the state com­pe­ti­tion, Cle­ment said. As soon as the team be­gan prac­tic­ing on the mats and set up the move where Fer­gu­son catches a cheer­leader in one hand, they found them­selves sur­rounded by re­cruiters, she said.

“We’ve never had that many coaches from col­leges com­ing and say­ing we want your ath­letes and so it was re­ally a proud mo­ment for me (as) a coach, just to be able to say, ‘Yes, they worked re­ally hard and they want to cheer in col­lege and they’re fi­nally kind of get­ting the recog­ni­tion they worked so hard for,’” she said.

Se­nior Avery Whor­ton has been a part of the team since her sopho­more year and has watched it grow.

On Thurs­day, Whor­ton said she watched a video of a per­for­mance from three years ago and com­pared it to the video of the team’s per­for­mance at state. The dif­fer­ence was so strik­ing that Whor­ton said she grew emo­tional.

Whor­ton said she is amazed at how she has grown per­son­ally and how the team has grown, in phys­i­cal strength, skills and close­ness over the past three years.

Whor­ton said she doesn’t plan to cheer in col­lege, but she did re­ceive an of­fer to be­come a Uni­ver­sal Cheer­lead­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (UCA) staff mem­ber and teach at cheer camps.

In ad­di­tion to grow­ing in suc­cess, the size of the cheer­lead­ing pro­gram in Siloam Springs has dou­bled over the past five years. When Cle­ment started there were 45 cheer­lead­ers in grades eight through twelve, now there are 90, she said. Cle­ment said that Ta­mara Ste­wart helped her grow the pro­gram be­fore de­cid­ing to take a break to stay home with her child.

James and Eli­cia Wil­liamson, of Elite Cheer Com­pany, also help coach the team on tum­bling and many of the cheer­lead­ers also par­tic­i­pate in both pro­grams.

The cheer pro­gram has also re­ceived a lot of sup­port from other coaches and the school ad­min­is­tra­tion. Cle­ment said that cheer­lead­ers were very pleased when head foot­ball coach Bran­don Craig asked foot­ball play­ers to at­tend their com­pe­ti­tions to re­turn the sup­port that cheer­lead­ers show the play­ers on the field.

High school prin­ci­pal Anne Mart­feld, a for­mer cheer coach, has also at­tended all their com­pe­ti­tions, and at­tended the state com­pe­ti­tion along with Su­per­in­ten­dent Ken Ramey, Cle­ment said.

Cle­ment said she’s ex­cited about the fu­ture of cheer in Siloam Springs and proud of the work ethic and per­se­ver­ance her team has shown.

“There are so many great things that have hap­pened this year be­sides win­ning an award that we can brag about, as far as school spirit, sup­port from the other teams for our ef­forts, that’s ex­cit­ing,” she said.

Julie Chan­dler/Spe­cial to the Her­ald-Leader

Siloam Springs High School’s com­pet­i­tive cheer team com­peted at the 2018 4A-6A Co-Ed State Cham­pi­onship in Hot Springs on Dec. 15.

Julie Chan­dler/Spe­cial to the Her­ald-Leader

Siloam Springs High School’s com­pet­i­tive cheer team’s per­for­mance at the 2018 4A-6A Co-Ed State Cham­pi­onship in Hot Springs on Dec. 15 earned them sec­ond place.

Julie Chan­dler/Spe­cial to the Her­ald-Leader

The Siloam Springs High School’s com­pet­i­tive cheer team had 0 points taken away for faults dur­ing the state com­pe­ti­tion ear­lier this month.

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