Fast Start Leads to Familiar Allen Park Finals Finish

By Tom Kendra
Special for

March 27, 2021

EAST LANSING – Allen Park proved Saturday the importance of a fast start in competitive cheerleading.

The Jaguars built a big lead, then held on despite not having their best stuff in Round 3 to capture their second consecutive Division 2 championship at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

“We didn’t have our best Round 3, but we definitely had our best Rounds 1 and 2,” said Allen Park senior Kylee Dietz, a returning all-stater from last year. “That just proves it takes three rounds to win a state championship.”

Allen Park posted the best scores in the eight-team field in the first two rounds and did enough in the final round to win with a 782.34 score.

DeWitt (778.90) moved up one after a third-place finish last year to place second. Muskegon Mona Shores (776.48) moved up to third with the best Round 3 score in the field.

Allen Park has now won three of the last five Division 2 titles, while placing second the other two years.

Julie Goodwin, in her 16th year as the Jaguars’ coach, said the key to this year’s victory occurred long before Saturday’s first two rounds – and far away from the bright lights of the Breslin Center.

“For two months we had practice on the computer four days a week and we had 100 percent attendance,” said Goodwin, who is assisted by Meghan Terry, Tina Johnson and Jessica Tremonti. “These girls worked hard in their basements.”

It looked for most of Saturday morning that Allen Park was going to run away from the rest of the field, in similar fashion as Rochester Adams did in the Division 1 Final on Friday.

But the Jaguars had an uncharacteristic drop on a stunt and several bobbles in Round 3, opening the door, albeit slightly, for its competitors. Goodwin said her team showed its grit by finishing the round strong.

“Endurance and perseverance were the key to today’s win,” Goodwin said. “I have been saying all year that we are grateful, thankful and blessed –  and I truly mean that.”

Leading the Jaguars through this challenging season were six seniors, including returning all-staters Skyler Longton and Dietz. Other seniors were Cailey Tuttle, Haylee Jent and returning all-state honorable mention choices Rayden Guthrie and Monica Karagozian.

Those six seniors pointed to the depth of the program, with 27 girls on the roster, as the key to this year’s championship. That depth allowed the Jaguars to overcome teammates that were sidelined by COVID testing and injuries.

2021 D2 Competitive Cheer Runner-Up DeWitt

“Everyone here is always prepared to step in and get the job done,” said Guthrie.

Allen Park will likely be in the hunt for a “three-peat” next winter, with a strong group of 10 juniors (including all-staters Adrianna Carone and Cassidy Kuhn) and nine sophomores returning.

DeWitt, which has never won a cheer Finals championship, finished runner-up for the third time, after also taking second in 2007 and 2015.

Candace Heskitt, in her 13th year as DeWitt’s coach, featured a veteran team with nine juniors and eight seniors – notably returning first-team all-staters Gabrielle Cooney and Aubrey McKinley.

“We had a feeling we were going to have a breakthrough, and it finally came today,” McKinley said. “It’s sad that it’s over, but it’s great to leave with this big trophy.”

Click for full team standings.

PHOTOS: (Top) Allen Park celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) DeWitt competes on the way to its third runner-up Finals finish. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Several Officials Give Time, Talents to Grant $21,000 in Scholarships at 22nd LMCCOA Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for

February 14, 2024

Jane Plaisted thinks it's one of those rare high school sporting events where scores and winners are secondary.

Instead, the focus of the recent Lake Michigan Competitive Cheer Officials Association meet is what the event could do for 75 seniors who competed in the sprawling 45-team meet at Byron Center.

All proceeds from the event went to fund scholarships for seniors who opted to write essays and then competed in the annual 22-year-old, three-division meet. The competition, which was completely run by LMCCOA judges, raised $21,000 to up its fundraising total to over $200,000 since the meet originated in 2001.

"It was a glorious day," said Plaisted, an LMCCOA member who has participated in 15 of the competitions. "The girls are happy, we're happy to give our time and it's such a positive day. We love being a part of it."

The event drew teams from as far away as St. Johns, DeWitt, Kalamazoo and Howard City Tri County. The chance to earn scholarship money was open to all 190 seniors who competed, and 75 chose to write an essay about "talking to their younger self and determining how competitive cheer has helped the athlete," said Stacy Smith, the president of the Michigan Cheer Judges Association. Smith said much of the event's dual goal is to promote competitive cheer while helping senior athletes wherever there is a financial need.

Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. The meet started with just five teams and a few hundred dollars in scholarships in 2001, but has blossomed into one of the largest single-day high school sports fundraisers in the state. The meet, which has been held at Byron Center three times as well as schools such as Caledonia and East Kentwood, reached a peak of raising $25,000 a year ago.

What makes the day particularly special, Smith said, is that between 50 and 70 members of the LMCCOA annually show up to donate their time without knowing how their abilities will be put to use. In addition to judging the meet, members handle virtually every other aspect of the competition, from taking tickets, working the concession stand, filling water bottles, scoring, running a 50/50 raffle and whatever else organizers can find for them to do.

"Cheer athletes aren't always recognized a lot for their work, but it's a sport where (Michigan) colleges have gained notoriety at the national level and now offer scholarships," Smith said. "It's become a big deal in the state. Division I and II schools and NAIA schools all offer scholarships now. This can help."

Seniors who choose to participate write their essay prior to the meet, and then a committee of judges pore over the writings during the meet. Winners are announced following the competition. Twenty-one seniors were awarded scholarship money.

Smith said few parents probably grasp how much detail goes into running a long, grueling Saturday event.

"I'm not sure if people realize all the hands that have to make this happen," she said. "We've been doing it for 20 years, and for us it's like riding a bike. You never forget. It's just a wonderful day.

"I'm not surprised people want to be part of it and step up wherever they're needed."

Plaisted said judges sign up for jobs when they arrive at the meet. A judge can be officiating an event one minute and selling hot dogs moments later. The 'work wherever needed' attitude of judges, she said, is what makes the event a popular destination for participating schools.

"As officials, we emphasize young women participating," she said. "That old concept of the dumb blonde cheerleader doesn't exist anymore. This is an accomplished group of girls who we support. If you talk to any of (the judges), this meet is one of the most fun things we're going to do all season.

The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools."It's become so popular. We gave away like $50 the first year, and since then we've grown from one long day to two sessions so we could increase the number of teams. Everyone goes home with a smile on their face, which for officials doesn't always happen."

Paw Paw cheer coach Stefanie Miller, whose team won the Division 3 portion of the meet, said coaches look forward to taking their teams to the meet.

"Absolutely because it's all about community," she said. "We talk to the girls about service and giving back. It's definitely a teachable moment, not only for the kids but for the adults, too, knowing what goes to the seniors."

"What I like best is that it promotes the athletes and all the work they put in. It's about giving back to them," added Brighton coach Christina Wilson, whose team won the Division 1 competition. "So many teams want to attend, and the coaches want the players to have a chance at a scholarship.

"I'm just in awe of seeing so many people there who are willing to give their energy for the kids."

One of Miller's favorite parts of the meet is watching fathers do a cheer "jump off" of their own tongue-in-cheek cheering skills while waiting for the final scores. She also loves volunteers making nearly 200 bows for participants to wear during the meet.

"Fathers do these cheerleader-type (routines) while there is a lull and it's just great," she said. "It's fun stuff like that that makes the day so special. It's all about giving back."

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Jane Plaisted takes a photo with this year’s LMCCOA Division 1 scholarship winners. (Middle) Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. (Below) The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools. (Photos courtesy of Stacy Smith.)