The Highland Middle School cheerleading team made school history when the squad captured the program’s first-ever Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association (ICCA) state championship. HMS won the Large Junior High Division at the ICCA Championships Sunday at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield.
To make the historic accomplishment even sweeter, HMS had to topple 16-time defending state champion St. Michael from Chicago.
“I am so proud of the girls. They were amazing,” said head coach Marilyn Bloemker. “They had two minor penalties for two points of deductions, but their performance was still strong enough and good enough to win it, including beating a team that had won it 16 years in a row.”
Bloemker said she always says that she can’t control the judges and how they are going to score the routine, but she wants the girls to come off the floor and be excited if they feel they stuck their routine.
“They were ecstatic when they came off the floor, because they knew they hit a good routine,” said Bloemker, who is assisted in coaching by Sheri Eveland. “They were, of course, ecstatic when they were announced as the winners, but they were also ecstatic after they knew they hit their routine.”
Bloemker said the team’s stunts were pulled off with near-perfect execution.
“Some of the stunts were at a varsity level, and it is even more impressive when you consider that they are such a young age,” she said. “These are 11-, 12- and 13-year-old girls, and some of them are in their first year in cheerleading. I think this was a great start for a lot of these girls, who should go on to a have huge impact at the high school level for years to come.”
Bloemker said being crowned the state champions in the ICCA Large Junior High Division was the best reward for her squad for all the work they put in. The HMS squad starts with a few practices in the summer, and then in mid-October, begins practicing about 12 hours per week, spread out over four days.
Highland High School cheerleading coach Angie Fears said her varsity squad did not have a strong day on Saturday after finishing in sixth place with a 3.25 penalty points, but she was very proud of the HMS team and her daughter, Lexie Fears.
“As for the middle school team and my daughter, it was something completely different,” Angie Fears said. “I’ve been anticipating this day for a long time.”
Coach Fears was helping coach JV when I got pregnant with Lexie and her two brothers and she took a two-year hiatus from the program. She picked up coaching again two years later when Lexie was 2 years old when Terry Aebischer retired.
After that, Lexie started cheering at the age of 4 on an all-star team and has been cheering ever since.
“As a cheer coach, it’s hard to be mom and step away at times,” Fears said. “I️ can be her biggest critic at times. Sitting up in the stands, knowing what could go wrong and what all the outcomes could be in that 3-minute routine and having absolutely no control as a coach, was so nerve wrecking… But the excitement I️ felt watching them perform a fantastic routine and watching my daughter perform was pure joy and pride. It brought me to tears.”
After they won the state title, Lexie told her mother, “You know, mom, maybe you were right … all that pushing and hard work really was worth it.”
Fears said the HMS cheer team winning its first state title is huge.
“It shows them that the hard work will result in that unexplainable feeling of winning in this sport,” Fears said. “They will carry that feeling with them into high school, and hopefully, that drive to succeed will carry on.”
The HMS program also feeds into the high school program, so HMS’ success helps lead to future successes at the high school level.
“St. Michael’s, who has 16 titles in the middle school division, is a feeder program for two or three of the more successful schools up north that are consistently top five in the large division up at IHSA,” Fears said. “Marilyn Bloemker has done a phenomenal job at growing our middle school program, and I’m hoping that this will help us to keep growing our high school program. I️ would love for us to eventually end up with, not only a varsity and a JV program, but eventually, a freshman team as well, like we did back in the ’90s.”
The HMS cheerleading team consists of Ava Allen, Madison Beiermann, Reece Bellm, Alexis Broughman, Kyleigh Buchen, Lexie Fears, Bayla Fitterer, Morgan Flesch, Rhea Fowler, Mya Iberg, Ava Lercher, Riley Mansholt, Chloe McTeer, Avery Miles, Carolynn Parsons, Tallie Powell, Allison Rieling, Shelbylynn Roberson. Kady Shaw, Kara Shaw and Brittani Wellen.