Highland High School 2017 graduate Bailey Wills will not only continue to showcase her cheerleading skills at the next level, but she will be doing so at the University of Louisville, which is recognized as one of the premier cheerleading programs in the nation.
Louisville’s large, coed team squad has been crowned 17-time national champions while the small coed squad is 10-time national champions. The all-girls team is 14-time national champions, including winning the nationals the last four years in a row.
“This program is outstanding when it comes to cheer, so I knew that I needed to push myself more then ever before,” said Wills, who was named to the 2017 Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association All-State Team. “I just thought, I have put so much time into the sport over the years that why should I stop after high school? The tryouts were long and stressful, but knowing I made the team is actually a dream come true. I’ve wanted to be on the team since the sixth grade.”
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The tryouts to be a Louisville Cardinals cheerleader were a three-day process that took place Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13. The first day started at 8:30 p.m. and lasted until 11:30 p.m.
The participants demonstrated their tumbling skills on the spring floor for the members of Louisville’s teams, which also comprise the all-star teams that compete at the world competition. After the tumbling, stunting began and the participants had to find a stunt group to join with and work with so that they could figure out what they want to show off to the coaches on the final day.
Before the second day of tryouts, the athletes had to come in for individual interviews where they were asked questions so the interviewers could get to know them and how they thought the tryouts were going up to that point.
“Then, when we got back to the tryout, they ran a mock tryout,” Wills said. “You did everything you would be doing on Saturday at the final tryout, so that nothing was a surprise and you felt more comfortable.”
After the mock tryout, those trying out learned the fight song, which they also had to do the next day. Then on the final day of tryouts, Wills was in the third group and was the 12th girl of the entire day to try out.
Each athlete had to do two run tumbling passes and two standing passes.
“I did my full to full for running as my hardest pass, and for standing, I did jumps to tuck and standing tuck two back handsprings to full,” she said “Then we had to do two stunts, one with a twist down and one with a flip out. It was a long day watching everyone else go. Then they had you go back out in your groups and do the fight song.”
Making the squad
After they finished doing the fight song, the athletes were told to come back in two hours at 8:30 p.m., and the list of those who made the teams would be posted on the doors.
If the person’s name was on the list, they went inside, and if it was not on the list, that person had to walk to their car and leave. Wills, her parents and her grandma all got to the school at 8:30 p.m. but the names still had not been posted.
“I cannot even explain the stress I was under sitting in the car waiting for everyone to go toward the door to see the list because I had no tide (sic) where I stood,” Will admitted. “They’re very good at not giving hints or making anyone feel more special then the other.”
Wills said she had mixed emotions. On one hand, she thought she did very well. But she also doubted herself and thought she may have come up short on something else.
Finally at 9 p.m., the list of names was posted. Wills wanted to go up by herself so her family had to wait in the car. It took a while for her to get up to the list because everyone was crowding around it. The scene was full of emotions as some girls just stood there and cried while others jumped on top of each other in excitement that they made the cut.
It took a long time, but Wills finally made it up to the list. She searched all over for her name.
“It took me while and in those moments I started to feel myself almost starting to cry and not being able to breathe; it was a horrible feeling,” she admitted. “But when my eyes locked on my name, I took a picture of it on the list and just ran inside. I completely forgot about my parents being in the car. They ended up saying I took too long and went to see the list themselves, and ran inside to congratulate me.”
Wills officially made the coed cheerleading team. At the end of this month, and again at the beginning of August, she and her teammates will have to go back for a work week, which will be key in helping the cheerleaders start figuring out coed stunt partners and working with those partners on basket tosses, stunts, etc.
Also in August, her team will be traveling somewhere for a team camp. The team members will be given a required workout plan that they have to do on their own so that the athletes are in shape when the season arrives.
“Obviously, this team has to put in a lot of work to win all those titles,” Wills said. “I know they said their practices usually start at about 9 p.m. and run as late as 12 or even 1 a.m. The other cheerleaders gave good advice not to take early classes, because you will want your rest after practice.”
At the beginning, the team will mostly focus on game material, because they will begin by cheering for all of the Louisville Cardinals football games. As a member of the coed team, Wills will also get to cheer for all of the Louisville men’s basketball games, home and away.
“With the team being so popular, they really talk about appearance,” Wills said. “They say how important it is to keep our social media clean and everything.”
Competitive but supportive environment
Wills said the level of talent she saw at tryouts was all amazing, and it’s going to be ultra-competitive just to earn a spot to compete on the floor at nationals.
“I’m excited to be on this team because of the competitiveness,” she said. “Everyone wants to win on this team, and they will all do whatever it takes to win. Everyone has high levels of skills, and if one person is slacking, there is another girl on the team who is working harder to take their spot. They will put in the extra work, and I’m excited to be a part of a group like this. I think it’s really going to push me to be even better.”
Wills said that although the girls on the squad are very competitive, they are also very encouraging.
“All the veteran cheerleaders may not have even known you, but during your tryout, they were yelling for you to push through everything,” she said. “I have met some of the other team members before, but a lot of the ones I’m close to have graduated. I did meet a lot of new friends at the tryouts, though, so I already have some friends on and off the team already.”