It was a banner year for two Monroe County high school cheerleading squads as each picked up multiple awards.
And although they are the fiercest of rivals on the football field and basketball court each year, the Waterloo and Columbia cheerleaders came together to support each other in their state title quests.
The Waterloo High School cheerleaders earned first place in the coed division of the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association Championships in Springfield to begin 2015.The Columbia and Waterloo cheerleading squads gather for a group photo in Chicago during a competition both squads participated in earlier this year. The two teams rode the bus together. (submitted photo)
Competing in the medium division, the Columbia High School cheerleaders also won first place at the ICCA event.
Both squads also advanced to February’s Illinois High School Association state cheerleading meet in their respective divisions, with Columbia just missing yet another state title.
For WHS head cheerleading coach Amber Hensiek and her squad, it was an emotional year dealing with the death of her husband to cancer.
“This made us closer to each other,” she said. “We are a family. We fight and argue, but also laugh and smile together. The bond we have really can’t be broken.”
Hensiek said that with two freshman males on the squad, it placed the team in the coed division, which was a new experience.
“This division does not have a school enrollment limitation, so we competed against schools that had 3,000 students in them, while we only have 870,” Hensiek said. “We knew the division would be hard, but we were determined. Our goals this year were to hit clean and execute our skills.”
Moving into this division allowed Waterloo to become closer with neighboring Columbia.
The WHS cheerleaders began tumbling at Power Haus Cheer, and Columbia coach Robbie Walters became the team’s tumbling coach.
“He is amazing and we had an instant bond,” Hensiek said of Walters.
The two teams even traveled together in January to Chicago on a charter bus, participating in two competitions.
“The feeling of having another squad screaming for you while you compete so far from home was incredible,” Hensiek said. “At that moment, we knew we were going to cheer for each other until the end!”
Even though Waterloo did not advance to the second day of competition at the IHSA state meet, Hensiek’s squad stayed and cheered for Columbia.
“The bus pulled up just in time and we ran through the coliseum as fast as we could just to make it in time for the start of their performance,” she said. “We screamed their cheer right along with them and couldn’t be more proud of their second place state finish.”
Walters said it was an amazing season for his squad.
“From the beginning, they connected as a team and committed to the work required for a run at state again,” he said.
On that final day of the IHSA meet, Walters said his team rallied with nothing to lose.
“They came out hungry, fighting for every skill,” he said. “You could feel the energy in the arena. And when the ending pyramid hits on that floor, under the lights, in finals, all you feel is pure elation!”
Columbia missed the top spot by .07, but Walters said he couldn’t be happier with the way his kids performed.
Sharing this year’s success with a neighboring cheerleading squad was a highlight for Walters and Columbia as well.
“We had a great time cheering on the Bulldogs,” he said.
“It was cool to see both groups of kids supporting one another, as we made our marks up north. That camaraderie continued throughout the season into the state finals.”