Losing has never been an option for Columbia High School cheerleader Tony LaFata.
“Winning all four state championships, I don’t know what its like to lose,” LaFata said after his team won the IHSA State Competition’s medium division Feb. 2.
This past weekend was no different. LaFata’s squad performed at the ICCA Championships and took their fourth straight title in four years there as well; the team has won eight state titles in the past four years.
On Jan. 19, LaFata, a senior, helped lead his team to win the ICCA Mt. Vernon Invitational. He also had an impressive showing in the coed stunt group category, where he performed with fellow classmate Chloe Alexander. The two won the category with LaFata performing impressive stunts like holding Alexander up with one arm extended over his head.
Columbia coach Robbie Walters says LaFata’s talent shined through at state last weekend, as well.
“He does a lot in that routine and is a phenomenal athlete,” Walters said. “Even on the big coed teams, he was holding coed longer than the bigger teams.”
Others took notice of LaFata’s outstanding routine as well. When he was called up to the victory stand during the IHSA State title medal ceremony, he was introduced as “the man, the myth, the legend, Tony LaFata,” while everyone let out a loud cheer.
LaFata explained that he and the squad had come to know the emcee who gave him the grand introduction over the years at competitions.
“He has known our squad for a long time but I think he believes it too,” said LaFata, adding that he would like to believe it as well.
LaFata does have reason to believe in his talent, with several universities already talking to him about cheering at their schools after graduation.
His coach says he has done all the right work to give him a cheer career beyond the high school level.
“As a male cheerleader it’s important to do single-base and coed stunts to push yourself for the college level,” Walters explained. But this is something that has taken a bit to sink in for LaFata.
“Since day one people have been saying, ‘you know you are going to get scholarships and you know people are going to talk to you,’” LaFata quoted. “But I never really believed it until two years ago.”
And that’s maybe because, being the only male cheerleader on the squad, comes with its challenges. “Being the only guy, at first it was difficult,” LaFata explained. “Probably the first three and a half years it was difficult. But four weeks ago or so, whenever we started to get support for state, it changed.”
He stated that he is “just more respected in general” by his peers.
It’s also hard to ignore the respect he has earned from his peers in the cheerleading world as well.
LaFata says area schools like Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville have contacted him and expressed interest. He is most looking forward to trying out for the University of Kentucky’s squad in April.
“I would like to win national championships with UK,” LaFata said with a smile.
The road to a championship has been traveled many times by LaFata, but does not look to be coming to an end anytime soon.
You can view LaFata’s impressive coed stunt group performance at the ICCA Mt. Vernon invite, here.