A new cheerleading team is turning heads in the competitive arena of all-star cheering.
The Lady Queens, who practice at the new Illinois Allstars Gym in Addison, won the national title in their division on March 2 at the National Cheerleaders Association championships in Dallas.
They earned a championship trophy, but more important, they each won a coveted NCA letterman jacket, which represents their national title to those involved in all-star cheering.
"It's the biggest cheerleading competition in the country with 1,200 teams and 25,000 athletes," says their coach, Marissa Gianpicolo, of the Dallas event.
They are coming off even more championships this week, after having won their level at the American Championships at the Schaumburg Convention Center on Sunday, and the JAMFEST National event on March 9 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
The Lady Queens compete in the Level 3 senior division, where the tumbling and stunting are equivalent to most local colleges, Gianpicolo says.
They complete back flips with no hands, make difficult basket tosses and do lots of other tumbling passes in between their stunts.
Girls on the team range in age from 10-18 and come from Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Bensenville, Chicago, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Itasca, Schiller Park and Wheaton.
Overall, the gym hosts five teams as well as offering tumbling and flexibility classes, drawing girls from Bartlett, Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, Addison, Carol Stream and Oak Park.
Hannah Rohlfing of Hoffman Estates is one of them. As an eighth-grader at Eisenhower Junior High in Hoffman Estates, she makes the commute to the gym with her mother, Tammi, nearly every day of the week for practices and classes.
Asked why she prefers all-star cheering -- which is similar to club volleyball in its level of difficulty and commitment -- Hannah summed it up simply: "the competitions."
"There are more competitions in all-star cheerleading," she said. "And the stunts are harder and we get to incorporate dancing."
The competitive season is winding down, and the Lady Queens have won all but one of the 16 competitions they entered. They'll finish out the year at The Summit, an elite, invitation-only competition in May in Orlando.
Gianpicolo credits the Queens' success this season to lots of hours in the gym and dedicating themselves to clean performances.
"I push them pretty hard," says Gianpicolo, who herself cheered on recreational teams, on all-star teams and for her high school, Guerin Prep in River Grove. "I treat them like college athletes, which is what most of them want to be."
She says her high school athletes would like to make cheering squads at Big Ten schools and major universities.
As it is, she has former students cheering at DePaul and Northern Illinois universities, as well as the University of Arizona and American University in Washington, D.C.