Highland: Sports

HHS grad’s lifelong passion for dance, cheer to continue as judge

Chelsey Kantner of Highland dances in a field while competing for Jane Mannion’s School of Dance in 2000.
Chelsey Kantner of Highland dances in a field while competing for Jane Mannion’s School of Dance in 2000. Courtesy photo

Chelsey Kantner of Highland took up dancing since she was 3 years old and has been cheerleading since first grade, and odds are good that her two favorite sports will remain a part of her life for the foreseeable future.

Kantner recently applied to be an IHSA judge for both sports.

“I really just enjoy cheer and dance and have done both my entire life,” said Kantner, a 2001 graduate of Highland High School. “I think my knowledge and background in both will be a huge strength for me. The toughest part of judging will be just not having a specific team that I will be with. I have gained great friends through my cheer and dance family and I know they support me 100 percent with my decision to become a judge.

“I am overall just very excited for this new adventure and I cannot think of a better way to continue doing what I love.”

Once official, Kantner had to take an exam online and she just recently went to Peoria for the IHSA Officials Conference. So far, she has knocked out her clinic for cheerleading but she still has to attend a separate clinic to get credit for dance.

“I hope to soon be able to judge for both,” she said. “I also plan to gather with other judges in my area to do video reviews and to gain more knowledge on the judging panel.”

Differences and challenges

Kantner said judging will be different to her because she will be behind the table instead of on the floor with her team.

“It will be hard not to cheer when a team does well or if I think something is impressive,” she admitted. “If you have ever seen me at a competition, I am that crazy coach on the side jumping up and down and can’t sit still.”

Kantner said she thinks it will be tough at the start because there are a lot of rules that go into the rubrics in cheer and dance and a judge only gets one chance to see each routine, so judges have be on top of it to assure that they are giving the correct scores that fall into each rubric category.

“If something is missed, trust me the coaches are coming after you,” she said. “I attended a clinic (two weeks ago) and we had to judge routines on videos, and it was a lot harder to mark everything down on paper in three minutes than to get there and plan out your routine over months as a coach. I feel it will be challenge at first but will be rewarding in the end. It will just take a lot of practicing ahead of time before my actual first judging experience.”

Dancing and cheering background

Growing up, Kantner started dancing at the age of 3 at Pat Fields School of Dance and transferred studios in fourth grade to continue her dancing at Jane Mannion’s School of Dance until she graduated from Highland High School in 2001. She garnered numerous dance awards with the Jane Mannion studio dance team.

She started cheerleading when she was in the first grade and went on to cheer under Hall of Fame coach Terry Aebischer as a Bulldog at HHS, where she was a member of three Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association (ICCA) state championship teams.

When Kantner graduated from HHS, she chose to move on with cheerleading and made the cut for the Kentucky Wildcats Cheer Team. But after attending the University of Kentucky in the fall of 2001, Kantner decided to switch to dance so she transferred to the University of Memphis, where she made the dance team and was awarded a full in-state scholarship. While dancing for the Memphis Tigers, Kantner and her teammates were a top-five finisher annually in Division 1A.

Kantner taught dance at Jane Mannion’s School of Dance from 2008 to 2016. And for the past five years, Kantner served as an assistant varsity cheerleading coach working alongside Angie (Luitjohan) Fears at her alma mater, which took a lot of time and dedication.

“I gave them my all and for once I decided it was time to work on myself and give me some me time,” Kantner said. “I did not want to give up either completely, so I thought by judging I could still be involved and still manage to take time for myself. I love both cheer and dance and know this will be a great step in the right direction for me, although I will miss my cheer/dance families tremendously.”

Kantner said her background both as a team member and later as a coach will serve her well as a judge as she has been taught and influenced by such well-respected mentors as Jane Mannion, Aebischer, Cheryl Haselhorst, Marilyn Bloemker, Fears, Shellie Salter, Kelly Fulton, Cheri Ganong, and Carol Lloyd.

“I have always been a tough critic of my own dancers and teams but that is just because I expect the best of them. What can I say, I learned from the best,” Kantner said.