By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
A local high school cheerleading team returned home this week national champions — and that return was celebrated memorably by fellow students, teachers, and family members.
The Southwestern High School Cheerleaders were still riding high from their first-ever national championship win when they returned to SWHS Tuesday afternoon with the help of a police and fire escort. The 17 cheerleaders — 12 of whom competed Sunday for the national title — brought home a Universal Cheer Association National Championship trophy.
“This is just amazing to see the school come out and support the girls,” said coach Britani Shoemaker, who has headed the team for eight years. “They (the cheerleaders) support the other teams through the year, so that was neat to see them get that support.”
The front entrance to SWHS was flooded with students holding orange and blue balloons and signs showing everyone’s excitement at the cheerleading team’s first national title win.
As soon as the girls emerged from the bus they’d just spent nearly 12 hours on, they were mobbed by fellow students, teachers and family members, all of whom were proud to say they were a Southwestern Warrior on Tuesday.
“They (the cheerleaders) have worked so hard through ups and downs, and they deserve it,” said Debbie Todd, mother to Keirstyn Correll, a junior on the team, as she fought tears.
SWHS competed this year in the High School Small Varsity Division II. More than 40 teams were placed in that category, which included all-female teams with participants in the 12th grade and below. Teams in that division competed with between five and 12 members and they come from high schools with up to 1,299 students.
Two-time defending national champion Burlington Township High School, from New Jersey, was unseated this year by SWHS. But it wasn’t by much. Shoemaker said judges handed down a combined score of 93.7 to SWHS — a little more than a point above Burlington Township’s score of 92.2.
Shoemaker said her hopes began to rise as soon as the team nailed their competition routine.
“I knew it was possible, but (Burlington Township) hit their routine too,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said she couldn’t describe what went through her mind when her team was announced as the first-place winners, but there’s no doubt pure emotion reigned at that point.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” Shoemaker said. “It’s one of those things we hope will happen but you don’t know if it ever will.”
Shoemaker said the girls work hard throughout the year to get their routines up to par on the national level, and she said practices that take place several days a week increase to every day from December through February in preparation for the event that sees hundreds and hundreds of teams descend on Orlando, Florida.
Shoemaker, who teaches 5th grade at Oak Hill Elementary School and who operates Pep and Pizzazz Studio in town, said her girls will get a short break — with a trip to the state competition in between thanks to a rescheduled event because of an ice storm — to help them wind down.
And then they’ll be back at it again, with try-outs in April.
“I can’t put it into words,” said Keirstyn Correll’s mother, Debbie Todd, about how proud she was of her daughter and her teammates.
“They’re worked so hard and gone through so much,” Todd said. “(Keirstyn) has learned to work really hard with this group of girls ... it’s a friendship that they’re always going to have, and they’ll be able to lean on each other.”
The 2013 UCA National High School Championship is tentatively scheduled to air between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on March 24 on ESPNU and between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on March 30 on ESPN2. The event will also air April 4, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., on ESPN2. Those dates are subject to change.