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Top of the pyramid

Duncan MacLean • Jul 26, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Fearless, determined, driven for success. Grand Haven cheer — better than the rest.

Two local cheerleading teams backed up their signature chant last weekend, competing in and winning National Youth Activities championships.

Champion Force Cheerleading, based out of Grand Rapids, sent its both its Grand Haven teams to national competitions over the weekend. The Division 3 cheer team traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio for the first-ever national competition at that level, where they took home the title with a transcendent performance. The Champion Force Division 4 team topped its field in a long-running competition with a bit more of a journey, bringing home hardware from Orlando, Florida.

The experience was unlike any other for the local girls. Representing the Division 3 national champions were Jayla Babbitt, Destiny Beck, Emily Cashbaugh, Hailey Garza, Vinnae Geldersma, Tessa Heech, Taylor Kenney, Madelyn Kramer, Anastasia Martinez, Isabella Maxfield, Keira Miller, Gracee Olsen, Olivia Popma, Olivia Rowley and Ana Rummler.

Representing in the Division 4 competition were Natalie Bessinger, Destiny Bice, Kaylee Carlson, Raeanna Clover, Elizabeth Griswold, Korrayah Kapenga, Jaden Molter, Zoey Nedry, Sarah Piper, Abby Popma, Lowynn Roberson, Kalyndra Smith and Madison Smith.

Raeanna, who has been training five years for a chance to take home a national title, described the trip to Orlando with the Division 4 team as crazy.

“It was one of our first national tournament,” she said. “It was crazy. We flew down the day before and went to Disney Spring, had the competition the next day and came back the next.

“It was a bunch of cheerleaders, throwers and lots of people. Once you get down there, you start to feel more nervous.

“We were so excited when we won and so happy. Everyone in the crowd and on stage was freaking out, the coaches were freaking out.”

Even the parents were shocked by the scope of the national event.

“It was indescribable,” said Mike Piper of the experience. “As a parent to be watching your daughter on the national level on a stage in front of thousands of people, it is really just indescribable.”

The scene — an arena with stands packed full of screaming parents and fans and the floor teeming with expressive, confident leaders of cheer — was not wholly unfamiliar for the small teams from West Michigan. It took repeated quality performances at raucous state and regional positions to even qualify for the national run.

“It gets pretty insane,” said Annette Clover of her daughter’s competitions. “The amount of fans and families to come out and support these girls. They fill up the DeltaPlex for regionals and state. The whole place is packed.”

While the Division 4 team did manage to finish in first place at both the state championship and regional championship competitions, that wasn’t necessarily enough to make the national meet. Rather than taking regional champions, the national competition qualification is purely based on score, and not just from this year’s competition.

Scores from the previous year’s state and regional competition are factored in when building the national championship field, ensuring that only the best of the best programs make the trip.

Champion Force is lucky to compete regionally close to home, as the DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids hosts both the state and regional championships with a sellout crowd.

As with any popular spectator sport, the product on the floor is sound. Each Division is separated by proficiency level, and the skills rack up quick.

Cheer routines are done to music and will feature basic individual cheer moves like kicks, jumps, dancing and stunts and cooperative moves like partner stunts, throwing and flying and the always-exciting full-team pyramid.

The Division 4 team is expected to execute all these features to perfection, labeled as the intermediate/advanced division, with athletes ranging from seven to 18 years-old — though most girls fall into the 10-13 range.

Divisions 1 and 2 are slotted for beginners under the age of 10, while Division three takes ages 10 and up and it slotted for beginner/intermediate athletes.

After outperforming Division 4, cheerleaders enter the elite levels of competition with West Coast Elite teams. Champion Force sent four West Coast Elite squads to the national championships, as well. All four brought home first-place honors, proving the West Michigan Lakeshore is the place to be for budding, nationally competitive cheerleaders.

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