After decades of appearances at the United Cheerleading Association’s (UCA) national cheerleading competition, Minnetonka High School’s Varsity cheerleading team beat out 16 other teams to hold the distinction of being the first Minnesota high school team ever to win a cheerleading national title.
“It’s amazing,” head coach André Brewer says. “It’s a testament to the coaches that came before me and put Minnetonka on the map as a competitive squad; as well as the girls, their parents, coaches, staff and community making the team what it is today.”
The cheer team has gone to national’s every year since former coaches Deb Malmstrem and Linda Theis took the team to nationals in 1989. The team placed third in last year’s competition.
According to Brewer, getting a taste of what could’ve been with their third place finish last year really motivated the team to get over the hump to win the coveted first place satin jacket. The reason this team in particular was able to conquer the title after a grueling 10-month season was due to a unique 50/50 split of returners and new team members who have cheered at Minnetonka on the junior varsity team and also competitively.
According to senior captain Marcy Adams, the team, which ranges in grade-level from eighth graders to seniors, blended really well and had fantastic coaches. Their biggest challenge was finding a routine that would win them a championship.
Since the team couldn’t meet the requirement that the whole squad had to be able to do the tumbling elements if they entered that division, they entered the Medium Varsity Non-tumbling Division at the UCA championship to remain competitive. The non-tumbling division focuses on the traditional elements of cheerleading with stunting, jumps, dance and motions. The Minnetonka coaches decided they’d push their girls to be the best in those elements.
“They were really passionate on the team,” Brewer says. “Instead of doing super elite stuff all the time—consistently with issues—they do it in a comfortable setting for them, though we do push them to do tumbling skills in practice. I love, love, love the cheer and dance personalities overall on the team.”
The team practices for about 12 hours a week, cheers at games, and then increases that practice time to 15 hours with Saturday practices as they get closer to nationals. Choreography is taken care of by the coaches but team members are encouraged to share their input.
“Our coaches are very good at choreography, and they give us everything we need to be successful,” says senior captain Molly Weavers. “They still have a lot of control over the routines, but they will take our input into consideration.”
The hard work paid off as the team wowed the crowd in Orlando, Florida with their ability to pull off the most difficult stunts, including single-base pyramids and full-up elevators—where a girl is pushed up to an arabesque and does a full 360-degree twist down. Both moves were used repeatedly in their championship performance.
The competition was fierce as Minnetonka went up against powerhouse teams from across the nation, and anticipation built while the other winners were announced.
“They announced the third place team and it wasn’t us, so I got really excited, and they announced the second place team and it wasn’t us,” Adams says. “Our coach had said we’d have to be really classy girls and sit there calmly and wait for the anticipation to subside. When they announced we had won, we all broke in to tears.”
Brewer, Adams and Weavers all hope that this victory will increase turnout for the team and give the sport the recognition it deserves, locally.
“Cheer is not always regarded as a serious sport at our school,” Weavers says. “Our classmates don’t really understand the athletic ability that is needed to do cheerleading. Nationals has gotten us a lot of really good press, so hopefully that recognition will help us be recognized as a more serious sport.”
Adams encourages those who are interested in trying out for the team to come to a practice and experience the sport. Cheerleading for her is a combination of school pride and helping out the Minnetonka community. It’s a fast-paced sport, and she says anyone who loves team sports will enjoy it.
“Cheerleading is really hard to describe, but we make it fun and it’s great to be a part of such a strong bond,” Adams explains. “All of the girls I’ve participated with in the past four years have been like my sisters.”
Tryouts for next year’s team will be held at the high school from April 23-27 at 6 p.m. Practices start in May.