Tonganoxie cheerleaders excel at nationals
The Tonganoxie High School cheerleading squad earned its first-ever recognition as an All-American team at the National Cheerleaders Association Cheerleading Camp on June 18-21 in Emporia.
The Chieftains were also the only team to win Spirit Sticks every day of the camp, and Tonganoxie accounted for seven of 30 all-Americans chosen.
But the Chieftains' major accomplishments came after injury struck the team twice. Yell leader Jake Cobb, who was practicing stunts with another squad two hours before try-outs for the all-star squad, broke a metatarsal bone in his foot.
Injury struck the same team again last Wednesday. Catherine McGraw was practicing handsprings and did five in a row.
"She's never done more than two in a row before," said Brenda Meyer, cheerleading coach.
McGraw wanted to try for a sixth handspring, but Meyer told her to save her energy for that night's activity.
McGraw went ahead with another attempt and stubbed her thumb in the process. Despite being sidelined for competition, judges named her an all-American because of her abilities.
"The judges told her 'we saw you tumble, we know what you can do,'" Meyer said.
The team was named an all-American squad after qualifying numerous team members as all-Americans, including Samantha Hessinger, who was named to the all-American All-Star Squad, and will now have the opportunity to go to Europe with the All-Star Squad.
Other THS members named all-Americans were Cobb, McGraw, Beth Knetter, Ashlee Murphy, Rachel Weston and Jake Dornback.
Roughly 500 participants attended the event in the student union at Emporia State. Tonganoxie yell leaders Cobb, Dornback and David Smith were three of just 50 yell leaders at the camp.
The team's success didn't come overnight it was more like 6:30 a.m. every day. From May 28 to June 18, the team practiced in the THS gymnasium each weekday until 8 a.m.
"They're a very dedicated squad," Meyer said.
Former Kansas spirit squad coach Elaine Brady, a friend of Meyer's, told her that the Tonganoxie squad had improved in the last four years.
"She said that we were the most improved this year and the most athletic team of all the squads," Meyer said of Brady.
The team's success appeared to have been helped by a strong coaching system.
Meyer said new assistant coach Sandy Saultz opened up practice in the mornings at THS. She also supervised the team at the camp until Meyer, who was teaching a morning enrichment class at the grade school, could arrive around 2 p.m. each day in Emporia.
"She was an immense help," Meyer said.
Bonnie Yunghaus and Cheryl Hassinger also assisted in coaching.
The camp started on June 18 with an opening rally at 2 p.m. That day's events concluded around 8:30 p.m. The next two days involved 12 hours of camp, and the event concluded on June 21 at 11:30 a.m.
Along with the all-Americans on the squad, team members competing were Shannon Pulkrabak, Karla Holton, Heather Harrison, Casey Worden, Stella Felix, Shadoe Barton, David Smith, Hanna Dornbrack, Laura Graveman, Amanda McLaughlin, Katie Yungham and Jessica Bogard.
The team was also voted nicest group and safest stunting team by its peers.
Squad members had to raise $200 each through fund-raisers for the camp.