Competition cheer rallies into second season

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The 2021 competition team after their 5th place State Championship finish (photo by Rachel Loughney).

Marin Poleshek, Managing Editor

As football season draws to a close, Homewood Competition Cheerleading is just getting started.

This year marks the second season for the competition team, a skilled group of cheerleaders who participate in both regional and state level competitions. There are 28 students on the 2022 squad, which includes members from grades nine to 12.

For head coach Rachel Loughney, the decision to rally for competition cheer was an easy one. A former cheerleader at Samford University, Loughney’s enthusiasm for the sport has only grown in her three short years on staff. As a result of this and collaboration with cheer director Shea Allen, a competition cheer proposal was taken to the Board and approved with ease.

Within a year, Homewood’s Competition team was up and running, boasting a strong group of 25 girls from all grade levels. Despite their novelty, the 2021 squad placed fifth at the AHSAA Gameday Competition.

The 2021 team poses outside the CrossPlex (photo by Millie Kate McBride).

According to Loughney, this finish was impressive, but not unexpected. As competitors in the “Gameday” division, Homewood cheer has the opportunity to show off what they do best: getting a crowd on their feet.

Though Loughney notes that the skills required for this division are “less flashy,” the difference in energy is what sets it apart from the more traditional competition style. While “Traditional” competition cheer emphasizes jaw-dropping tumble passes, “Gameday” focuses more on stunting to hold the crowd’s attention.

“You have to be energetic and engaging,” Loughney says. “Our whole job as cheerleaders is to get the crowd yelling with us.”

For team members, this energy extends far past the competition floor. Though their season doesn’t kick off until December, the team starts training in August, demanding a motivation level beyond that sideline cheer.

“In regular cheer, cheer isn’t their only priority,” Loughney says, noting that many football season cheerleaders also participate in sports such as soccer and bowling. However, because competition is “more of a time commitment,” the caliber of dedication tends to be higher.

“They are excited to be there,” says Loughney, citing the team’s drive as a product of their focus.

For senior cheer captains Charlotte Lee and Millie Kate McBride, this opportunity to refine their skills was a deciding factor in their decision to try out for the competition team. After years of hearing about other school’s competitive cheer programs, Lee claims that they both wanted to “up their game.”

After making the team, both girls dedicated countless hours to preparing a routine fit for the competition stage. In the “Gameday” division, these performances typically consist of a band chant, sideline cheer, traditional cheer and fight song. 

“It’s a lot more pushing the crowd to get involved,” McBride says, adding that the overall environment is “super structured.”

When asked about this first team’s dynamic, Lee describes it as strong but inexperienced. She explains, “We just didn’t know what we were doing, being that it was our first year.”

Last year’s team celebrates after one of their final practices (photo by Rachel Loughney).

Now a competition veteran, Lee has high hopes for the upcoming season. Since many members have participated in competitions before, she believes this experience will make a significant difference in performance.

McBride agrees, noting that shifts in AHSAA regional divisions may also impact the team’s placement in this year’s state championship. 

“We have the same area setup as football does,” McBride says, noting that the shift in football divisions impacts cheer as well. For Homewood, this means that sports teams will play against a different stratification of high schools than in the 2021 season.

They really leave it all on the mat.”

— Rachel Loughney

Regardless of how the team performs, Loughney’s hope is that its members will build confidence and develop a competitive edge. To her, the biggest victory is seeing her team motivate each other and showcase their hard work.

“For once, they are the ones who get to showcase what they’ve been working for,” she says, alluding to the responsibility of the cheer team to celebrate others instead of themselves.

“They really leave it all on the mat, it’s been so rewarding.”

The competition cheer team will open its season at the AHSAA Central Cheer Regional, scheduled for Nov. 9 at the Birmingham CrossPlex.