After attending USA Spirit Nationals for the first time in twenty-five years, MSJ Cheer defied expectations by placing within the top twelve of their division. Cheerleading at Mission has often been a subject of scrutiny, with people questioning the validity of such a small team. However, MSJ Cheer’s growth in the past few years has made it a force to be reckoned with.
With only eight members at the beginning of the year, MSJ Cheer began the season by reaching out to people to recruit. Co-Captain Junior Amna Sharif said, “We started reaching out to girls who wanted a place to belong and a family.” Late July, they competed in the Universal Cheerleaders Association Camp held at UC Davis where the team brought home five trophies — among them most improved, best game day cheer, and second-place dance. They also received the spirit stick, which was given to the team with the best spirit and attitude on one given day. These accomplishments led them to qualify to the national stage.
The team sent 11 cheerleaders to Nationals in Anaheim where they placed twelfth in high school small varsity show cheer among other divisions like group stunt, song/pom, and crowd leader teams. Describing their experience at Nationals, Sharif said, “We gained new insight on cheer as a competitive sport because before it was assemblies and performing for the school, but now it’s competing, where we always have to make sure our technique is right.” To prepare for Nationals, Cheer persevered through a rigorous practice schedule, sometimes rehearsing their routine five days a week. Co-Captain Junior Anisha Malkani said, “We spent hours at practice. We drilled the routine a bunch.” They were aided by their coach, Jiti Sarkar, and former coach Tiffany Stelle, who often stayed after school to watch the team. “Our cheerleaders worked every day leading up to the competition to make changes [and] consistently improve together. The girls had more energy than I had ever seen and their performance was a hit,” Stelle said.
Aside from the demanding preparation for Nationals, MSJ Cheer found difficulty in overcoming injuries throughout the year. Co-Captain Brianna Jackson said, “With the last competition and with the last two assemblies, we had a lot of girls who were injured and had to be out. With our team, with the size of it, we only had so many girls to sub in and out, so that was a big challenge to face.” Fortunately, the team used their quick thinking to put together a new routine between performances.
Having come back from Nationals, the team hopes to change MSJ’s perception of cheer. Malkani said, “I think students definitely have been giving cheer more recognition.” Sharif, speaking on the team’s growth, said, “We started off as a really small team… and we kind of created a family after all this time. All the girls are super close and I think we’ve really grown as a team to where cheer’s not just a sport, but it’s something that we live by.”
As their season comes to a close at the end of March, MSJ Cheer plans to visit Hopkins Junior High to recruit incoming freshmen and hold tryouts in April. The team hopes to find people who are looking for a welcoming, open environment to explore cheer. Sharif said, “We want to show people cheer is an actual sport and what competitive cheer actually is… and get people who want something like [cheer] actually interested.”