They sat in a circle, heads down, holding hands, listening intently as the announcer got ever closer to the moment of announcing the State Champion cheerleading squad.
The cheerleaders of the Mount Prospect Cheerleading Club's seventh-grade Competition Squad were united in nervous anticipation as strongly as they had been united in teamwork throughout the long, amazing cheerleading season of 2011.
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The Illinois Recreational Cheerleading Association (IRCA) State Championships were held on Dec. 3-4 at the Sears Centre Arena. The crowds were big and the noise level deafening, not only from the cheerleaders; but also from the family members and friends, numbering in the thousands, there to support the teams who earned qualifying bids at regional competitions.
The Mount Prospect Cheerleading Club's seventh-grade competition squad earned three bids to state by placing first at three competitions.
The road to the state championships was not an easy one for any of the three competition teams in the Mount Prospect Cheerleading Club. Many of the cheerleaders faced illness and injuries, including broken bones, concussions, bruises, and sprains.
Routines often needed adjustment hours or minutes before performances. The character of each girl was tested time and again; and every time, the girls pulled together to compete against other very talented cheer squads.
The sixth-grade competition squad won two bids to state, while the eighth-grade competition squad won one bid. Both the sixth- and eighth-grade squads performed well in the semi-finals, but neither advanced to the final round. Not advancing was especially difficult for the girls of the eighth-grade squad. All season long, they followed a mantra of 'Don't Stop Believin' as the injuries and obstacles progressively mounted against them. Ironically, on their final score-sheet, a judge scribbled the words, "Don't stop believin'."
It takes a determined, focused group of cheerleaders to win at competition. It was apparent early on that the MPCC seventh-grade squad was that kind of group.
"These girls have something special," said Coach Elaina Gallichio after the girls won their first bid to State.
Coach Gallichio and co-coach Katherine Griffin, along with assistant coaches Brianna Eggebrecht, Lexi Kalish and Mary Godby made sure the girls were ready to win. They stressed creativity, teamwork and sportsmanship as a strong foundation. In the process of becoming better cheerleaders, the girls became best friends.
"The girls have become my second family," said Team Manager Maria Philippas. "I love all of them," added co-manager Mary Radecki.
Hard work and determination can take a team a long way, but sometimes there needs to be a little bit more. On the last day of the state competition, when the girls of the Mount Prospect Cheerleading Club's seventh-grade competition squad took the floor, a little magic happened … their performance was flawless!
A casual observer could see it on their faces as they came off the floor; each girl knew they had never performed so well. Cheerleader Tasia Schmidt said what they were all thinking, "Wow! We're going to win this!"
When the moment came, and the announcer declared them state champions, the girls hugged, cried, and celebrated as confetti and balloons filled the arena. Then, as the celebration came to a close, fittingly, the disc jockey played, "Don't Stop Believin'."
The cheerleaders of the Mount Prospect Cheerleading Club seventh-grade competition squad are: Jade Bath, Nicole Brennan, Zanaida Chavez, Kathleen Cross, Maureen Cross, Grace Godby, Claire Hageman, Jillian Henning, Caroline Hernandez, Chelsea Maldonado, Mary Paluch, Mia Philippas, Bevin Radecki, Kayla Reeves, Tasia Schmidt, and Caroline Sevilla.