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By Betty Ann Demaree, Tigers cheer coach

After months preparing for a competition that was postponed more than once and then elevated straight to state at the last minute, the road has not been an easy one to say the least.

Cheerleading is not like other sports. We do not have a bench of alternates to choose from when someone gets hurt or sick. Everyone has an important role to play. When one squad member is gone, the full routine cannot be practiced. In a normal year, we practice with all of our girls every morning during our athletic hour until competition is finished in late September. This year, however, we had to get creative and depend on early morning (6:30am), night, and weekend practices to get everyone there. We have multiple cheerleaders that also play basketball, and our school only has one gym to share amongst all ages and activities. So we went days between full practices. Covid, of course, took a toll on our practices and attitudes at times. Social distancing guidelines and quarantines put a strain on us for sure. We went nearly three months without having all 19 of our squad members present, even down to the final week, causing us to make last minute changes to the routine. Our girls willingly moved positions and made the changes necessary every time they were asked, which at times were every practice. They proved how resilient they truly are.

Tryouts to make this year’s team were stiff, with more girls coming out for the squad then ever before. We ended up with the largest squad Central has ever had at 19 members. No one on this squad has been to a state championship and a quarter of our girls have never stepped foot onto a competition mat, period. We all looked forward to regionals for that experience this year. When it was cancelled, there was a mixture of excitement and fear. We, of course, were so excited to be a state qualifier for the first time in four years, but also a little disappointed that they didn’t get that experience under their belts before the big day.

Competition day is a nerve-wracking experience in and of itself. The anticipation and pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming. These girls had worked all that time, but it all came down to two minutes on the mat. One mistake can be the difference maker. The squad had a great warmup, but decided to do one last run through before our time ran out. A mistake was made and it definitely shook them up. We quickly focused them back to the task at hand. “You’ve worked long and hard for this. Give it your all for two minutes. Go out there and have fun,” we told them.

Performance time came and they did great. It wasn’t perfect and we even had a music malfunction, but they kept moving with ease. It’s fitting with the year they have had that even the final performance would have it’s challenges, but they didn’t let it phase them a bit. We had all put so much pressure on ourselves for this one event that even with such a good performance, they weren’t completely satisfied. They sat in anticipation for the awards, running through the mistakes they had made and not believing they had even placed. It was such a satisfying experience to see their surprised reactions when Central High School was named state runner-up.

Through it all, our girls persevered and their hard work definitely paid off. Even when frustrations were high, their athleticism and determination prevailed. They never quit. In the end, they came together as a team and made it happen.

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