Hudson Conquers Championship Climb

March 7, 2020

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – Coming into this season, Hudson had just one MHSAA Finals championship in competitive cheer – to go with five runner-up finishes.

Those close calls have made the Tigers better, not bitter, especially last year’s razor-thin heartbreaker to perennial powerhouse Pewamo-Westphalia by less than four tenths of a point.

“Honestly, the runner-ups have been motivation to work on all the little things and to push us to where we are today,” said senior Anna Valdez.

Where Hudson is today is atop the Division 4 cheer world, after using a powerhouse second round to take the lead and then holding off a furious charge from P-W on Saturday at the Delta Plex.

Hudson won with 770 points, followed by P-W with 767.80 and Addison at 762.36. Those top three teams separated themselves early on, with Adrian Madison finishing a distant fourth at 751.34.

The Tigers, who had four runner-up finishes before breaking through for a title in 2018, have now won two of the past three years.

It sure didn’t look like it was going to be Hudson’s day early on. The Tigers drew the first slot in Round 1 and came out flat, trailing not only rival P-W, but also Addison (coached by Jessica Sword, daughter of Hudson coach Kelly Bailey), entering Round 2.

“It’s always hard to go first in Round 1,” explained Bailey, who is in her 23rd year as Hudson’s coach. “That’s a tough spot to be in, and we were really nervous today and I’m not sure why.”

Despite the shaky start, the Tigers delivered a virtuoso performance in Round 2, which is judged primarily on precision and synchronization.

Hudson’s Round 2 score of 227.70 was 5.4 points better than the next best score in that round, turned in by Pewamo-Westphalia (222.30).

“We definitely knew we had some wobbles in Round 1 and it wasn’t our best,” said Valdez, one of five seniors on Hudson’s roster. “Round 2 has always been our power round and the round that always gets us ahead by a little bit.”

That dynamite showing turned a half-point deficit into a nearly five-point lead entering the final round.

However, Bailey and her team were not taking anything for granted against a Pewamo-Westphalia team known for dominating Round 3. Exhibit A happened just one year ago, when the Pirates came from behind and edged the Tigers by less than a half-point.

P-W, which has won nine Finals titles and now has 11 runner-up finishes, certainly did its part. The Pirates went fifth out of eight teams and delivered the best Round 3 score in the Division 4 field at 313.0.

Hudson was next up and the pressure was on to avoid a repeat of one year ago. The Tigers delivered a solid, if not spectacular, Round 3 to hold on for the championship.

The win was particularly satisfying for Hudson’s five seniors – Valdez, Lyndsey Tanner, Anna Loar, Savanna Proudfoot and Summer Walker – who will graduate with two championships and two runner-up finishes during their four years of high school.

Bailey, who, in her 23rd year, is one of the deans of the state’s competitive cheer coaches, is also one of the most calm on the coaching podium – leaving all of the clapping and gesturing to her two assistants, Lyndsi Hall and Jacque Marry.

“I want to be calm up there,” explained Bailey, whose team was champion of the Lenawee County Athletic Association and won all but one of its competitions this winter. “I don’t want to confuse them or make them think that I’m upset with something.

“That’s always been my style. I’m still the same – the girls keep getting stronger and more athletic every year, though.” 

Munising (742.30) took fifth, ahead of St. Charles, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and East Jordan.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hudson held on for its second Division 4 championship in three seasons Saturday at the Delta Plex. (Middle) Reigning champion Pewamo-Westphalia ended runner-up, its 20th top-two Finals finish.

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.)