GSN NEWS STAFF
Campo Verde High School has something to cheer about.
Actually, the members of the school’s varsity and JV cheer teams have a lot to celebrate after coming home from the USA Nationals with the best showing in Campo Verde’s 10-year history.
The junior varsity girls won the school’s first national title, competing against 10 other schools in the Medium Junior Varsity Novice Division.
The varsity team competed against 24 other teams and placed fourth in the Small Varsity Novice Division, also bringing home the highest title yet for a Campo Verde High cheer squad.
Ironically, two of the coaches who would have the most to cheer about with the girls’ victories couldn’t see their teams in their moments of glory because they were home with some other things to cheer about.
Cheer program director and varsity coach Erica Duckett is on maternity leave, and JV coach Danielle Stegina was getting married.
The teams’ victories cap a long and disciplined regimen over what Coach Cathi Harrison calls “a very long season” that basically begins in April when tryouts are held. After that, the girls practice for four times a week during the summer, attend summer camp and then practice up until the end of February until the Nationals in Anaheim, California.
“Both our varsity and JV teams practice from 6-8 a.m. four to five a week Monday through Friday,” said Harrison, who is in her fifth year of teaching English at Campo Verde and her fourth coaching season. Harrison herself began cheering in junior high in New York and after her family moved to Gilbert, she was on the Highland High cheer squad.
The practices also include a class in tumbling and stunting technique once a week with Chris Campbell and Chandler Clawson of Rogue Athletics, weight classes twice a week to build strength and, of course, cheering on the sidelines for basketball and football games and pep assemblies.
Add to that not only their studies but also community service projects.
“Cheerleading is a very physically demanding sport and without proper strength and technique training, these athletes would risk major injuries,” Harrison explained. “Their safety is always a top priority. These kids work incredibly hard during practice, as well as on their academics. Our program’s expectation is for every athlete to maintain a 70 percent or higher in all classes to be able to participate, so school always comes first.”
Harrison said she was thrilled by both teams’ performances at Nationals, a kind of Super Bowl for cheer.
“We began the season evaluating the talent and skill that these kids had and knew that they had the potential to make it through to finals,” she said. “Our goal for both teams was to place in the top five placements in their respective divisions, so I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Both divisions are incredibly competitive and it typically comes close to .5 points between first place and fourth place – these kids knew they had to bring their best performances yet.”
Leading up to Nationals are a USA qualifier competition and biweekly competitions from October through February. “We find this keeps our athletes focused and goal driven to make each performance better,” Harrison said.
After the Nationals, she added, “there were a lot of emotions when both teams were awarded their placement: a mixture of sheer excitement, relief, adrenaline, love for their teammates and pride, just to name a few. The coaches and parents are so proud of their achievements, and going to Disneyland the remainder of the weekend was a great way to celebrate both teams’ success.”
Even though she couldn’t attend, Duckett, in her ninth year of coaching cheer, was just as elated.
Prior to Campo Verde, she coached a coed team at Poston Butte High School for six years, winning a series of titles.
A cheer squad member when she was growing up in New Jersey, Duckett treasures the “influential and inspirational coaches” she had and said she tries to model her own coaching style after them.
Duickett said that even though she was on maternity leave, she stayed in constant contact with Harrison and also was “sending my own personal motivational messages to the girls.”
“I had a feeling that this year was going to be a game changer for both teams,” she said. “I could feel the energy all season and knew they would do well.”