Highlands cheer team has perfect ending, wins national title |
High School Other

Highlands cheer team has perfect ending, wins national title

William Whalen
Members of the Highlands competition cheer team pose with the guitar trophy they won at the 2019 Champion Cheer Central Hard-Rocking Nationals in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Highlands competition cheer squad might have been singing the blues following a rough outing at January’s WPIAL competitive spirit championships, but the Rams were rocking in Cleveland to close the month.

The Rams put their WPIAL woes behind them, regrouped and traveled north to the banks of Lake Erie to compete in the Champion Cheer Central Hard-Rocking Nationals and returned home national champs.

“It was overwhelming,” Highlands coach Kia Jones said. “There were a lot of tears and a lot of emotions. I think we just finally got to the point that we all knew that we could get to in the season.”

The performance included cheers and a dance routine set to original music. Jones can be seen in the video rushing to the front toward the end of the 2-minute, 30-second routine and pounding the stage with excitement.

“I was standing there trying to not cry, and I knew at that moment that they had hit the routine,” Jones said. “We just need the official (score) from the judges, just in case they saw something that I didn’t see.”

Highlands “hit zero” and turned in a performance worthy of zero deductions in the Varsity Intermediate All-Girl School division. The Rams’ 13-member squad narrowly missed out as the competition’s overall Grand Champion, losing 91.56-91.44 to Silver Creek (N.Y.).

Senior co-captain Alyssa McDaniel sensed her team was putting together something special as the routine played out.

“We felt really good,” said McDaniel, who also is a member of the Highlands drill team. “Even at the end, during the pyramid, we were all screaming, ‘Go! Go!’ ”

Highlands earned medals, trophies, sweatshirts and a banner that will go on display in the high school gym. The Rams also left the “Rock and Roll Capital of the World” with a shiny new guitar as part of the prize package.

“I’ve always wanted a guitar,” Jones joked. “It’s a blue electric guitar. It’s very pretty. We’re getting coins saying that we ‘hit zero’ because we got zero deductions.”

It was a storybook ending to a season that never really got off the ground. The Rams peaked late in the competition season after finishing last in Class AA at the WPIAL competition. The Rams saved their best for last.

“A lot of people make fun of us because we’re not as good,” McDaniel said. “To win and have them announce it, it feels good.”

From injuries to illnesses to grades, there was a reason behind Highlands’ struggles throughout the season. The Rams bloomed late because the necessary team chemistry to be successful didn’t arrive until the end.

“We had to step back and address the problem and make the changes,” Jones said. “We knew that they had been a team long enough, and I saw them growing and molding as a team.”

The Rams started over after the WPIAL championships. They had to if they wanted to perform well in Cleveland.

“We had a two-week turnaround,” Jones said. “Basically, it was sitting them all down and telling them they were U.S. finals champions two years ago.”

The Rams got to work, meeting in the gymnasium of Highlands Elementary School to work out the kinks of their routine.

“We had to change everything,” McDaniel said. “It felt different, and everyone had a different mindset because it was nationals.”

For McDaniel, the experience will go down as one of the top moments in her high school career.

“It was a fun ride because we won and we got a banner for the school,” she said. “It was a really good feeling.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.