The best kept secret on the Blackman High School campus usually produces the loudest cheer for the Blaze athletic program.
Members of the Blackman High School cheerleading squad celebrate Feb. 9, 2013, after winning a University Cheerleading Association national championship title in Orlanda, Fla. (Photo submitted)
And that secret got a cheer of its own Feb. 9 at the Universal Cheerleaders Association's National High School Cheerleading Championship, held in Orlando, Fla.
The Blaze cheerleading squad enjoyed their third national championship in four years.
The victory secured 10 of its seniors with a rare bragging right – finishing their high school careers with three national titles and one runner-up in the annual event.
“It was absolutely the best feeling in the world,” said Abby Waldron, who is one of those Blaze seniors. “This year was really important because we wanted to get back-to-back championships. We have never done that before, and we are so proud of our team.”
The Blaze dynasty incomprises national titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and a runner-up finish in 2011.
The Blaze cheerleading coaches and members of the squad said they believe the previous experience of competing on a national stage, along with strong senior leadership, was one of the main reasons the Blaze were victorious.
“It’s really important to tell our younger classmates to do what we know how to do and just stay calm and collected,” Waldron said. “We tell them over-thinking it can be hard, but you just have to do what we are trained to do. We told them to be confident, but not cocky, and most importantly, be humble. Just show out to the crowd.”
Head coach Heather Wortman added, “It was huge. Having that senior leadership was a big deal because we had a lot of freshman coming in. The team has been cheering together for several years, and they are a close knit group.”
This year, Blaze squad was made up of 27 members, including 10 seniors and five boys, who had worked on their routine since the summer of 2012 at cheerleading camps.
A typical practice week for the team included two hours of practice four or five times a week at Blackman High.
Not only do they have to master routines for competitions and football games, they juggle classwork and community service throughout the academic year.
During the school year, the squad put in 400 hours of community service and kept a collective 3.4 grade point average.
Members said they believe the structured schedule has helped the team in all aspects of daily life.
“Our coaches have always been supportive with us in our school work, and doing good in school,” Waldron said. “It’s been good to have that balance.”
But the squad also dealt with issues off the mat this season.
One senior lost a father and another team member dealt with an extremely ill brother.
“We had to overcome a lot of things this year,” Wortman said. “This team has been through a lot, and they have overcome obstacles. We told them overcoming obstacles is part of life.
“Cheerleading teaches you life lessons. It’s more than getting on a mat for two minutes and 30 seconds. It’s about overcoming life obstacles and coming together as a team to win a national championship.”
More than 500 teams, including college, high school and club cheerleading and dance squads, took part in the competition, which was held at the Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.
Several national championships were crowned in 40 divisions with the Blaze winning the Small Varsity Co-Ed Division I class.
Each routine included a mix of vocal cheers and performance to a mix of music.
Judges based each team’s performance on a 100-point scale, which focused on the stunts during the music and getting the crowd involved in the cheers.
In addition to competing against the best squads, all of the teams had to deal with complexities of television cameras because the nationals have been a longtime partner with the ESPN family of networks.
“It’s so exciting, I cannot even express the feeling,” Waldron said. “The cameras and lights are on you. When we are out there, it’s like you are on top of the world, especially when you hit your routine. You feel confident.”
After working all year in preparation of the national championship, she said the feeling of winning is “absolutely amazing.”
“When we come together as one, having confidence in each other, and becoming a family at the end of the year,” she said, “it’s awesome.”
The event will be broadcasted at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 24, on ESPNU.
To view performances, got to www.varsity.com.