The following is a Q&A with members of the WCHS cheerleading team conducted by Standard sports editor Jeffery Simmons following the team winning the TSSAA state title Saturday. Those interviewed were seniors Araya Buchanan, Koley Campbell, Heidy-Lin Teeters and Zoye Henry, along with junior Gracie Cowan. Comments from WCHS coach Stacey Elam are added at the end.
Q: When did you know this group was special and you had a chance to win the title?
Teeters: I have been cheering with the majority of these girls since I was 10. Even then, we were a very talented team for our age. As we have gotten older, we have only progressed. At the beginning of this cheer season, we had more talent on the team than we have ever had. It was then that we knew what we were capable of. We had been to three competitions before state, and we brought home a first-place win from each one. We knew if we could put out a flawless routine at state, we could bring home another first-place win.
Buchanan: Many of us grew up cheering together, and I have always believed this team had the potential to win it all. With the amount of talent on the team and the bond that we all share, we knew we were capable of any goals we set for ourselves. After a first-place finish at our first competition at Blackman, followed by another win in Nashville and another in Birmingham, we proved just that.
Campbell: I have grown up cheering with over half of the girls on this team. With that being said, I have always had total confidence in these girls and I knew that this year was going to be our year to win state. Being undefeated throughout this season has been a big confidence booster which took off some pressure for state.
Henry: I have cheered with this group of girls since the very beginning and I’ve always had faith in them. Coming from runner up last year really gave my team the motivation to strive for first this year. I’ve always known my team was special and held loads of talent but receiving first this year really gives us the drive to better ourselves for the rest of the season.
Cowan: I’ve have known most of these girls for basically forever so that in its self makes our team special because we have such a close bond! And I think going into state undefeated really gave us the confidence we needed as a team to take home the win!
Q: At state, what were your feelings right before taking the stage? And how did you feel once you were done – did you know you had a chance once you finished?
Teeters: Before running onto the competition floor at state, I had mixed emotions. I was nervous - The pressure was on. We had won every competition so far this season, so we had to win this one too. It was also nerve racking because we had never won state. I was also sad, because it was my senior year. This was my last time competing at state. This was my last chance to win state. Even with the nervousness and sadness, I also had a feeling of confidence. We had been practicing constantly and we had hit a perfect routine at every other competition, so I knew we could do it again, and we did. We got on the stage and hit a perfect routine. As soon as the music stopped, I was very relieved, but mostly proud of my team. We couldn’t hold back the tears, because this was what we had been working so hard for. We knew we had a chance to win with the routine we put out.
Buchanan: Walking into state we knew we had big competition and that regardless of the hours we put in beforehand, all that mattered was what we put on the mat. So we left it all on the floor and walked away on top. This team has been the most hardworking and determined and the success that has came from it is so deserved.
Winning the state championship has been a big goal of ours for a while now. The feeling of finally reaching that goal after months of hard work is indescribable. When they announced our name as state champions, I knew all the long practices and work was absolutely worth that moment with my team. The win has given us confidence and heightened our drive to continue to reach our other goals.
Campbell: Before taking the stage I was super nervous because I wanted to win this title so bad. I knew that it would make the countless hours and hard work worth it. I knew that winning would also be a huge honor especially in our small town which made me want to win even more. Right after our music stopped and we hit a perfect routine, tears of joy were flowing from everybody. It was the best feeling in the world. I knew that we did the best we could do and I was hoping we had a chance to win, but you never know what will happen in cheerleading.
Henry: Right before taking the stage I was very, very nervous of course. Even though cheer has been my life, walking on that blue mat will always get the butterflies flying. As soon as our music came to an end, I felt all of the hard work and long practices pay off. Once you leave that mat, it’s all up to the judges so knowing whether we had the chance or not to hold such a title is hard question. I knew no matter what happened the love and passion for my team wasn’t going to change.
Cowan: Before going out on stage I was so nervous because I didn’t want to let my coach down and I didn’t want to let my team down! After we got off stage my entire team couldn’t help but cry because we were so proud of what we put out there! In that moment we honestly didn’t care if we won even though that’s what we wanted we were just proud of each other!
Q: What was the workload you had to endure to get there? How many time do you think you performed these routines before you took the stage one last time?
Teeters: Competitive cheerleading is something not many people understand. There are so many things that happen behind the performances that people don’t see. Before competitions we practice every day Monday-Friday, then compete on Saturday. These practices are not light. There are blood, sweat and tears poured out at every single practice. You get hurt - you shake it off and do it again. You run the routine over and over again. There’s no way to count how many times we have ran the routine at practices. When you feel like you can’t keep going, you have to. We know that if we can hit our routine at practice over and over again when we are literally dying, that we can do it at competition. However, it wasn’t easy to get to where we are now. It took many long hours of hard work, injuries, tears and blood. But I wouldn’t trade all the hours I spend with these girls and my coach for anything.
Buchanan: We learned our routine during the summer and have spent countless hours since working and perfecting it. With time we have continued to progress and add difficulty. We travel to Murfreesboro to premier athletics for choreography.
Campbell: Preparing for state we put in many hours of practice. During competition weeks we usually practice every day Monday-Friday then go to competition on Saturday. Leading up to state we have competed at three competitions in different areas. In cheerleading, consistency is key so each day at practice we ran through our routine continuously. Our routines were made during the summer so honestly we have ran our routines more times than I can count.
Henry: Going into the season came with lots of work. On weeks of competition we practice Monday-Friday and then compete on Saturday. We run our routine numerous times to have it looking crisp for the competition. We go through each section and make sure we have everything to a T.
Cowan: During the week of competition we normally practice Monday-Friday, which seems like a lot but is totally worth it. Our coach always tells us consistency is key so that’s our main focus in our practices. And honestly there is no telling how many times we have ran these routines full-out because we have had them since summer.
Q: Where do you go from here? Is everybody already turning their focus on nationals?
Teeters: Now is when practices get longer and harder, even if we thought that wasn’t possible. We don’t have any more competitions until Nationals - we just have a couple showcases. We are going to start working on making the routine harder and getting it consistent for nationals. There’s no chance to win if we don’t hit a perfect routine. These practices get very stressful and hard, but I believe in my team and I know we are capable of putting out a winning performance at nationals in February.
Campbell: Thankfully we have received many bids to compete at Nationals in February. Until then, we will be performing at many showcases and focusing on keeping our routine fresh and clean.
Henry: Coming home holding the state title is very exciting but (it) comes with bigger plans. The plan from now to the day we leave for nationals is to enhance our skills and maintain consistency. Showcases will be held for friends and family. Our focus has always been on nationals from the get go.
Cowan: So from here all we can do is practice as much as possible fit in as many show cases as possible, and just progress and hit clean consistent routines!
Comments from coach Stacey Elam: The WCHS football cheerleaders established goals in March and one of those was to execute every routine that they do and to win a state championship. The cheerleaders started their competition journey in September at the Middle Tennessee Cheer Classic where they received first place in their traditional routine (which is a 2:30-minute routine packed full of tumbling, elite stunts, and a cheer) and second place in gameday (which is a three-minute routine that mimics the sidelines during football season).
The girls went back into practice and worked even harder perfecting their skills for their upcoming regional competition. During this time we had a few injuries and had to restructure our routine. This did not stop the girls’ ambition to win and secure a bid to compete at the national competition in February. The girls competed in November at the Nashville Regional where they captured another first-place victory in their traditional routine and third in gameday.
The girls were not finished yet with their competition journey as they traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to compete in the Southern School Championship. The cheerleaders only competed in the gameday division at this event and rocked the floor. The crowd was chanting for Warren County because they were so spirited. It was a great feeling because we want other people to know who Warren County is.
After the Birmingham competition we knew that we had a big task ahead of us - the state championship. We knew that we were going to have to give more energy and effort then we had in the previous competitions. We were runner-ups last year, and we wanted that championship this year.
The TSSAA released who our competitors would be and we were looking at some amazing programs that have state and national titles under their belt. We have such an amazing, talented team this year. I just told the girls to breathe, take one skill at a time and believe in yourself and your team.
The girls went out on the floor and blew the competition away. They looked awesome and to hear the crowd cheering for them was great. When the announcer called out the second place team and it wasn't us, I knew we still had a great chance of securing the state title. When he said we were the new state champions, it was the best feeling in the world. I am so proud of these girls, but we are not done yet. We compete Feb. 7-9 in Florida at the UCA National Competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. We want to go to Florida and bring home a national title.