Highlands High School cheerleading team took home the gold medal and Middle School brought home the silver at the Cheer LTD Regional Prestate – Mountain competition at Enka High School in Candler, N.C. on Oct. 27. This is the first time Highlands has ever participated in a cheer competition.
Teams were separated by the number of cheerleaders per squad and both high and middle schools were up against two other teams. Head Coach Kristin Huneycutt said both teams did amazing despite cheerleaders and coaches feeling the pressure before the competition.
“We had a warmup, then they have to run out and perform the routine,” said Huneycutt. “That’s it, and they nailed it.”
In addition to both Highlands teams medaling, Highlands High School earned the No Deductions Award and Best in Spirit Award. High School Captain senior Betty Garcia has been a Highlands cheerleader all four years and said with competitions being added to the program practices are much more “extreme,” but the extra effort pays off.
Video of Highlands High School learning they had won the Cheer LTD Regional Prestate – Mountain competition. Video courtesy of Anthony DeNardis
“Being around those other girls in the competition was very intimidating,” said Garcia. “But after we won a rush of emotion came over me. We were finally rewarded for all the hard work we put into it. I was ecstatic, there’s no feeling like it.”
8th-grader Ashlynn Wilson said it was a lot of work to get there, but taking second place was worth it.
“I am so excited,” said Wilson. “Everyone has worked really hard for months on our stunts and jumps. I can’t wait for the next competition.”
Huneycutt said she was very impressed with both teams’ performance in Candler.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “We went into it knowing we were underdogs never having competed before, and have never been on a competition stage. I would have been happy if they both took home third place. I’m so proud of them.”
Highlands will compete again next year in late January, but there’s plenty of work to be done before then gearing up for basketball season. The routines, stunts, jumps and choreography are all the brainchild of Huneycutt. Both teams practice several days a week honing their skills.
Unofficial “Assistant Coach” Margie Potts said Huneycutt has put in a tremendous amount of dedication to grow the cheerleading program in Highlands.
“The girls go to summer camps and they all work really hard,” said Potts. “And she (Huneycutt) puts in so much of her time coming up with the routines and stunts. She really wants to expand and build the program here at Highlands School.”
Huneycutt may be designing energy-charged routines and stunts, but it’s the students who are doing the heavy lifting…and throwing…and jumping. 10th-grader Zaia Rodriguez-Denardis said she joined cheerleading to support the school’s teams and meet friends.
“The commitment is several days a week and it’s important to go to practice,” she said. “We all rely on each other to make the routines work. It’s like a puzzle.”
Sometimes things don’t work out like they should in some of the more complex stunts as Rodriguez-Denardis remembers having her toes stepped on multiple times during practice.
“I had it done twice,” she said. “It hurt so bad but the pain was worth finishing the cheer routine.”
Sometimes a person has to try something before diving into a commitment, but lucky for 6th-grader Lathea Watts, she said she’s had fun from the beginning.
“All my friends were doing it, and when I saw it it looked fun,” said Watts. “Then I tried it and I really liked it.”
6th-grader Anna Fox said after practicing for several weeks, the routines are becoming second nature.
“I think it’s easy when you’ve done it for a while,” said Fox. “I was a cheerleader in preschool and my mom was the coach. It’s so much fun.”
Junior Marilyn Valerio said their performances are much tougher than they look.
“People think it’s not a sport, but it really is,” said Valerio. “It’s tough. And every night you go home with bruises everywhere.”
Garcia said it is most definitely a sport.
“It is hard, and I think that since we’ve been doing it for a while we make it look easy,” she said. “But it’s a lot of sweat and hard work.”
6th-grader Ariel Arbra said even though it can rough out there, it’s worth the hard work.
“It’s fun because you get to do so many things like stunts and stuff,” said Arbra. “It’s easy once you do it for a while because you get used to it. It builds teamwork and it’s fun. I fell down once and then I was dizzy for a minute but then I was fine the rest of the time.”
Boys Middle School basketball team plays tonight at 4 p.m. at home against Rosman.
Highlands High School Cheerleading Team
Highlands Middle School Cheerleading Team
More Team Photos
Photos of competition by Margie Potts
Video courtesy of Anthony DeNardis
Article and photos of cheerleading practice by Brian O’Shea
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