As the Blair Oaks varsity squad waited for the final outcome of the state cheerleading championship, they didn't believe they were going to win. They looked quite dejected as they sat in the stands at the Hearnes Center in Columbia after finishing their performance.
"We cried," said Kelly Wilbers, 17, co-captain of the Blair Oaks squad. "We didn't think we were even going to place."
So when the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association announced on Sept. 15 that the Blair Oaks High School Varsity Cheerleaders had won the 2A Large Division State Cheer Championship, the girls paused in disbelief. And then complete pandemonium broke loose, as they screamed, laughed, cried, embraced and rejoiced.
After encouraging other athletes for so long, it was finally their time to savor for themselves the sweet taste of victory.
"It was the most amazing moment in my life," Wilbers said.
But it took a lot of hard work. Starting in May, the team practiced three hours a day to refine and perfect their routine. At the regional competition on July 18, they thought they had turned in their best effort, only to place fourth out of six.
"We were disappointed," said co-captain Ashley Holland, 17, senior. "But it pushed us to work even harder for state."
Between July and September, they reworked the entire routine. For the state event, every team creates a three-minute performance, with one minute devoted to cheering and two minutes used for dance. Lots of tumbling, stunting and jumping make the performances thrilling for the audience.
The Blair Oaks' team worked especially hard on their motions in order to execute a performance as sleek and synchronized as humanly possible.
"We cleaned everything up. It was not near as sloppy as it was at regionals," Holland said.
"We worked really hard to make it energetic," Wilbers added. "I really think that's what put us above the other squads."
The Blair Oaks cheer program has gradually built toward the state championship, winning fourth in state in 2012 and third in state in 2011.
But they beat 14 other teams to become the first state cheer champions in Blair Oaks High School's history.
Both Holland and Wilbers said each one of the 17 competitors on the squad bring unique strengths. "We balance each other out," Holland added.
Unlike their work on the sidelines, cheer competitions "prove we are athletes, because we put so much work into it," Holland said.
Wilbers added that the atmosphere on the squad is family-like. "We have to be there for each other ... we throw each other up in the air," she said.
Both co-captains said they will be sad to leave the team when they graduate, but they are glad to have gained more respect for the squad at their school. They are leaving behind a strong legacy. Although only two seniors are leaving the squad next spring, six freshman, three sophomores and six juniors are likely to remain involved.