Fewer in Number, Huskies Just as Mighty

March 4, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – Breckenridge possessed the smallest competitive cheer team in terms of numbers among the eight in Saturday’s MHSAA Division 4 Final.

Being fewer in number, however, didn't prevent the Huskies from adding another championship to their already remarkable resume.

Despite a roster of only nine, Breckenridge won its third straight Division 4 Final on Saturday at Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.

It was the second time the Huskies had won at least three titles in a row. They captured six Class C/D titles over a span of seven years from 2000-2006.

Breckenridge tallied a three-round score of 768.66 to edge runner-up Hudson (765.10.)

“We were a smaller team this year, and we worked on that and knew how the score sheet worked,” Breckenridge co-coach Deb Gaines said. “Just doing everything we could to get all the points we could as a small team. We worked harder and turned over every rock to be stronger while also working on our vocals.”

There were benefits and difficulties involved with having a decreased number of girls, according to co-coach Jenna Graham.

“It’s easier for us to work with less girls, but on the mat you can’t hide anybody,” she said. “From player one to nine they all had to be stellar.”

The members of the team didn’t mind the low total. It helped create a tight unit that was determined to continue the program’s successful tradition.

“Having less girls does help because it’s less people you have to focus on and there are less personalities,” senior Madison Smith said. “Our team is so close, and I can say that these eight girls are my best friends.”

“I think we worked together better being smaller,” added senior Harley Conklin. “There were less arguments and we flowed really well together. Overall, we just clicked well.”

The Huskies clicked well early en route to the victory. They snared the early advantage with a score of 231.90 in Round 1.

“That was our goal,” Gaines said. “We knew we couldn’t be behind after Round 1. We were pleased with that, and we’re super happy. They did exactly what we’ve been practicing to do. To come out and deliver three great rounds, and that’s what they did.”

Smith said the Round 1 effort was a motivating factor.

“We knew we gave everything we had in that round so we knew we could do it for two more rounds,” she said. “This is the best feeling, and I hope every high school athlete gets to feel this.”

The program's 10th MHSAA Finals championship was particularly special for Gaines and Graham, who are mother and daughter.

Graham cheered for her mom in the early 2000s and was a part of three titles.

“It works awesome with us coaching together,” Graham said. “It’s special to share this together.”

Added Gaines: “We’re on the same page. We have the same goals and the same outlook. This keeps us going.”

Hudson returned to the top two for the first time in seven years.

The Tigers placed runners-up in 2010, the last in a string of three straight second-places finishes from 2008-2010.

“It feels great to be second,” said 20th-year Hudson coach Kelly Bailey. “You watch a lot of teams be disappointed with runner-up, but if you’re getting a medal you are getting a medal and I have all the respect in the world for Breckenridge. They are a great program and to be that close to them … you can’t ask for anything more." 

The Tigers secured their lofty finish by posting the highest Round 3 score (315.80) of the day.

“They did exactly what we asked them to do,” Bailey said. “Just have fun and don’t give up until the end. We never looked at scores. We just went out there and did our best.” 

Adrian Madison (753.54) took third, while last year’s runner-up, Michigan Center (749.44), placed fourth.

Click for full results. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Breckenridge performs en route to repeating as Division 4 champion Saturday. (Middle) Hudson earned its highest Finals finish since 2010, taking second.

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)