NRHEG cheer team places 11th at national competition

Published 3:47 pm Thursday, February 16, 2023

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Last week, the NRHEG cheer team traveled to Florida for a national high school cheerleading competition in Orlando, where they placed 11th. The cheer team had qualified for the competition last October.

According to Joni Churchill, head sideline coach for the NRHEG cheer team as well as one of the cheer competition team coaches, the girls earned their spot after qualifying in a regional event.

“As soon as that happened we got to work,” she said. “We started fundraising, we started really buckling down in practice.”

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Cheer competition, which started roughly a week before they qualified for the national competition, involves performing a routine, which for NRHEG was 2 1/2 minutes and consisted of stunting, a dance and a cheer.

“You go and compete against all these other teams, and you start off with 100 points, and then … they’ll start decreasing based on things like difficulty, how well you execute your stunts, whether you fall, what your emotions look like, things like that,” she said.

Every day during the event — which started with 39 teams in their small-school division — the competition was reduced. And on Saturday they just missed qualifying for the final round after placing 11th, .8 points behind the 10th-placed team.

The cheer routine was first developed over the summer and tweaked based on judge feedback.

“We hire choreographers, we’ve got a couple of guys from Northern Elite, which is an all-star gym out of Bloomington, who develop our routine for us,” she said. “And then throughout the season we just kind of will tweak based on, ‘Hey, we could put a harder stunt here now.’”

According to Churchill, the girls did a great job of taking over the routine.

Doing so well wasn’t a huge surprise for her, as she felt this year’s team had a pretty good shot of going far, and said the goal was simply to compete in the preliminary round of the competition.

The team also performed at a regional competition. Divisions were determined by school size: small, medium, large and super and based off of how many students were on the floor. They also separate by whether students tumbled and flipping.

Brenna Sommer, a junior at the school, has been involved in cheer since second grade, the same year the program started.

“I was just kind of a fun little kid, I wanted to try things and there wasn’t a whole lot of sports available at that age,” she said. “So my parents saw the slip come home in my folder, and we decided to give it a try.”

And she’s happy she did, and described cheer moments as some of the most memorable of her life.

This was also Sommer’s first time on a plane. She had never been out of the state before the trip.

“I was so excited because I’d get to go with my team, my best friends, and also it’s a new experience for me,” she said.

She also enjoyed Disney World, and wants to return to the cheer competition next year.

Sommer said cheer was a sport and noted the cheer season started in the summer.

“We work just as hard, just as long and we practice just as much,” she said. “It is a big deal that we went to nationals.”

Fellow junior Isabel Stadheim has been in the program with Sommer since second grade.

“It’s been the best 10 years of my life,” Stadheim said. “… I love it so much I don’t know what I would have done without it honestly.”

Being in cheer has helped with confidence, and she admitted she was normally a shy person. And she’s trying to apply that confidence to every aspect of her life.

Unlike Sommer, Stadheim had been to Orlando multiple times before the competition, but noted this trip was different.

“We went there to work, we went to prove ourselves — a small-town school from Minnesota,” she said. “Nobody knew where we were from. I think we shocked most teams that we beat out that first day.”

As for next year, she hopes the whole team improves.

“I think we can definitely take it a whole lot further,” she said.

Sierra Misgen, a sophomore on the team, remembered watching cheerleaders when she was younger and wanted to follow in their footsteps.

During their fundraising events, she admitted a lot of the businesses they visited were confused and hadn’t heard about the national competition.

“But they were impressed by us being able to go there,” she said.

Like Stadheim, the cheer experience has helped with her confidence and speaking.

For Churchill, her favorite moment of the experience was being with the team and seeing them evolve.

The NRHEG cheer team had 15 members, all of whom competed. This particular team started in elementary school when this year’s juniors were second-graders.

“We’ve just been moving up with them since then,” Churchill said, though she herself wasn’t their coach at that time. “I think I started coaching … when [the juniors] were in sixth grade.”

She took over after their former coach left following graduation.

“A couple of us moms were like, ‘Well, lets keep it going,” she said.

Churchill, who had experience as a sideline coach but not with competitions, described it as a learning experience.

And with only two seniors this year, she didn’t know what to expect next year.

This was the third year in a row NRHEG cheer won the state competition — held in January — as well, though the state and national competition are two different entities.

“Just really proud of these guys, really happy with how our season went, beyond our wildest expectations, and it couldn’t happen to better kids,” she said.

For students interested in joining, Churchill said there would be a registration at the school likely in April through Community Education. For questions, contact the NRHEG Community Education office.