MHSA(Q&)A: Gibraltar Carlson cheer coach Christina Wilson

February 17, 2012

After cheering through middle and high school, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer coach Christina Wilson started coaching the Marauders’ middle school team the season after she graduated from Carlson High in 2001. She took over the varsity team in 2007 – and has accomplished in a short time what many coaches hope for over decades.

Carlson has won three of the last four MHSAA Division 2 championships – also finishing runner-up in 2010 – and is ranked No. 1 in its division heading into District competition this weekend. The Marauders have had a strong program throughout the history of competitive cheer as an MHSAA sport – they won the Class B championship in 1995 under Pat Christiansen and finished runners-up three straight seasons after that – but are on a run unequaled over the last five seasons.

Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Oakland’s cheer teams now boast former Carlson athletes, and all of this success could be just the start – Wilson may have accomplished a lot early in her career, but she said she hopes to keep the Marauders rolling for years to come.

What kind of things did you learn from your high school coach that you still teach today?

As soon as I started coaching middle school – we also got a new coach at the varsity level as well, so we had new coaching throughout the program at that time – I took and got the resources from our former coach in ’95 (Pat Christiansen) and started using all her resources. Everything she implemented and used for her teams, I took and continue to use today

Her daughter (Tami) coached with her in ’95 when we won the state championship, and she recently came back in 2010 as one of our assistants. She brought back that mentality of ’95 of working hard … the harder the practices the more successful you’ll be … make practices count enough so on Saturdays you can be as prepared as you can be … and the importance of making of making good decisions, in practice and outside sports as well.

Your program had success previously. But what happened to take Gibraltar Carlson to the next level?

I started coaching middle school, and by the time I moved up to varsity all (my) rules and procedures, the kids were used to it and it was (the same) throughout the program. It was becoming a program-wide thing to become excellent. It wasn’t just team by team, and I think that helped. We hold our kids to really high standards, and we’re expected to reach our goals and expectations.

What is the one big thing your athletes take away after four years of being part of your program?

We have the mementos and the championship rings and those things. But I think it’s a sense of pride. It gives them a sense of self. They know they can have goals, and if they work hard they can achieve those goals. If they put their minds to something, it’s something they can grasp if they work hard. I think that whole mentality of working hard, pursuing goals and teamwork is instilled right from the get-go, and something they take with them when they leave the program.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?

It’s not easy. We go to several camps; there’s a champion cheerleading camp we go to every summer. We work with college teams too; they come and show us things they do and teach us things. We take some kids every once in a while to out-of-state clinics (Kentucky, Bowling Green, etc.). We really try a diversity of things to get the girls out there and experiencing things. The techniques and ideas, it’s all about seeing something and then adding that to imagination to come up with whatever knows what.

Why are your teams so consistent?

We hold them to high expectations. We have gymnastics classes that they regularly attend, and on their own they go to the gymnastics facility once or twice a week extra on top of that to stay on top of their skills stay among the best athletes in state. One thing we do every year is we create a huge goal board. What we do after we start competing, is every Monday we check off what we’ve completed on the goal board. It’s not just a mental aspect, but it’s visual. Every week focus on something we try to achieve.

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

I love working with the kids. They’re funny. Practice is something new every day; you never know what you’re going to get. It’s so much fun. (And) competing is fun. I like the aspect of competition, the intensity of it. That’s lots of fun too. Winning is fun.

This is the sport Gibraltar Carlson has become known for, the one in which it’s had the most success lately.

It’s starting to grow. People look at cheerleading like, “Oh, it’s cheerleading.” We are definitely gaining the respect of other coaches and other programs, other sports and teachers and the student body. The really cool thing is when people start to look at the sport and realize how physically demanding it is. It makes us feel good to hear when other coaches say they think maybe the cheerleaders might be some of the best athletes in this school.

PHOTO from last season's MHSAA Division 2 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.

Team of the Month: Croswell-Lexington Competitive Cheer

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 14, 2023

The Croswell-Lexington competitive cheer team had finished fourth, fifth and fourth, respectively over the last three Division 3 Finals as this season began in November with more high expectations – but also the annual challenge of believing those could be attained.

Competing in the same Blue Water Area Conference as Richmond, the Pioneers are more familiar than most with the program that entered the season coming off a fourth-straight Division 3 title. And as a regular at Finals weekend, Cros-Lex also is plenty aware of the power of Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, the only other team besides Richmond to win a Division 3 championship between 2012-22.

But during the Pioneers’ first competition this winter, coach Katie Tomlinson knew this could be the team to rise above that history and make some of its own.

Cros-Lex finished fifth of 18 at the Jan. 6 Richmond Invitational, but second in Division 3 to only the host Blue Devils, and with scores including a D3-best 309.30 in Round 3.

“For our first competition, (we had) some of our best scores we’ve ever received – and typically our first competition is really tough for us. So that was kind of a turning point,” Tomlinson said. “Just the confidence they had that first night, competing for the first time, it was just a shift.”

That shift provided early momentum as Cros-Lex made one of the most impressive championship moves in any winter sport this season.

The Pioneers are the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for March after finishing their season as MHSAA Finals champions in the sport for the first time, overcoming a 1.24-point deficit to Richmond after Round 2 to win the Division 3 title at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.

Croswell-Lexington finished with three-round score of 776.72, seven-tenths of a point better than runner-up Notre Dame Prep and with nearly two points more than the Blue Devils. The Pioneers launched into the lead with a 314.50 in Round 3, the second-best score for that round in the competition.

“I think that it was such a shock for them in the moment and so exciting and rewarding,” Tomlinson recalled this week, “but it definitely was the work put in, just like every other team, and believing in themselves and just going out there and doing what we always do and what we’d worked hard for and what we’d put in that time and effort for – and just watching it pay off. It was kind of a mix of just really believing in ourselves – it’s been a challenge for a few years now building up that confidence to know that they are a team that’s worthy of a state championship and then proving that. They earned it.”

And it was truly a team effort. Cros-Lex had 28 athletes, and only one of the other 31 teams across four divisions at the Finals – Division 1 Grandville with 30 – had more on the roster. Of those 28, 22 competed in at least one round at CMU. Juniors Alexis Bales, Cora Katulski, Shelby Oliver and Makayla Rice and sophomore Carly Old competed in all three rounds, while seniors Noelle Golda, Santanna Horning and Emma Six and sophomores Larkin Krohn, Niah Krohn, Kaleigh Kelch and Addyson Sharpe competed in two rounds. Seniors Cassidy Seaman, Deborahann White, Maria Tabernero and Alleyna Martinez; junior Grace Hodges, sophomores Emma Yearkey, Madison Greenaway, Maggie Wallace and Addison Gardner; and freshman Chelsea Miller also took the mat.

Oliver, Katulski, Rice, Bales, Old and Kelch made the all-state first team. Wallace, Hodges and Sharpe made the second team, and Six, Horning and Golda earned honorable mentions.

Cros-Lex had finished second to Richmond in the BWAC and second to Notre Dame Prep at their District before finishing third to both at the Regional. The Pioneers had never finished higher than fourth at a Final.

“We are up against (Richmond) quite a bit and I’m super close with Kelli (Blue Devils coach Kelli Matthes) … and honestly, we enjoy going to the competitions that have those teams that have won on that stage,” said Tomlinson, who has been part of the Pioneers cheer program since seventh grade beginning as an athlete and including the last eight seasons as head coach. “It sure pushes us further to be better and keep improving instead of staying satisfactory.

“It does make it hard when you’re up against such powers for years where they take it every single year. It makes the girls second-guess themselves and their capabilities, so that was a big thing that we started back in June for sideline and tried since to implement every day – the confidence and the belief in ourselves that even though they’re great, we are too.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

February: Hart girls & boys basketball - Report
Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report