By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – Southgate Anderson senior Morgan Farrah knew all along her team was capable of repeating as MHSAA Division 1 competitive cheer champion Friday.
But not until just before Round 3 began at the DeltaPlex – as Anderson’s fans chanted “I believe that we will win” from the stands – did she see in her teammates that they believed as well.
And only after it was announced did the Titans know for sure they had edged a close group of contenders at the top to win their second straight title.
“We knew that we had a lot to back up to because we were the state champs, and we knew that the judges were expecting a lot from us,” Farrah said. “We had to give them more than what they were expecting.
“I knew that we were just going to go out there and pour our hearts out to those judges.”
The Titans improved from third place after Round 1 to second after 2 before finishing Round 3 with 780.36 points total to edge runner-up Hartland (778.48) by a mere 1.88. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek also was in contention until the end, finishing third with 777.08 points.
A year ago, Anderson celebrated its first MHSAA cheer title. But history moved fast Friday, and by the end of the evening the Titans were celebrating becoming just the third team in Division 1/Class A history to repeat as champion.
Anderson’s scores over their rounds were 232.7, 228.96 and 318.7, respectively. The Round 3 score was a full point ahead of the competition.
The run is even more impressive considering the team graduated nine after last season, many of whom participated in all three rounds. But as Anderson co-coach Colette Norscia put it, “We figured it out, how to get it done.”
“A lot of hard work. We had nine freshmen, so we had a really young team this year,” co-coach Stacey Shaw added. “And it’s all about just adapting to how everyone works.”
“Lots of times, we think more of them than what they think they can do themselves,” Norscia said. “We just gotta tell them we can. Every single day. … Even today.”
The Titans – champions of the Downriver League, which sent four teams to the Finals this weekend – came into the postseason ranked No. 3 in Division 1. But they also came to Grand Rapids off their lowest finish of the winter – third at the Regional.
Top-ranked Hartland, meanwhile, hoped to follow up Anderson’s 2012 achievement with its own first championship.
By placing second, the Eagles did post their best finish ever. But despite a notably difficult Round 3 that earned the second-best score, and the top-scoring Round 2, Hartland couldn't make up enough ground this time.
However, only three of the team’s 22 athletes graduate this spring.
“We’ve worked really hard, day after day. It’s a dream come true. I couldn’t ask for better,” Hartland coach Amanda Adkins said. “(Winning the title) is always a motivator. These girls are great at pushing themselves, and they always like to set their sights high.”
But Anderson could stand in the way again in 2014. The Titans too have only three seniors.
And the 22 athletes who could return next winter shouldn’t need convincing that they can extend the championship streak to three.
“It’s so much more exciting (this year) because we have worked so hard from day one, because we knew we’d have a young team,” Farrah said.
“I think we had to convince (our younger teammates) a little bit at first. But then we got to them, and they knew they were going to do it, too.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Southgate Anderson competes during Friday's Division 1 championship meet. (Middle) The Titans pose on the DeltaPlex floor with their newest trophy. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
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.
"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.)