Five West Philadelphia cheerleaders were given the chance to make their mark in the national spotlight.
The girls traveled to Virginia Beach with their coaches, Tosha Little and Da’Lia Starkey, to compete in the two-day Jam Brands Cheer and Dance National Final on May 3 and 4.
For some of the girls, this was their first opportunity to travel outside the city.
“I think it will be a great opportunity and good experience for them to go out and see different cities and take in the sights,” said Starkey.
Starkey, a former member of the Temple University Diamond Gem dance team, was asked to help choreograph their routines. Her background in dance and fitness training has helped her choreograph winning pieces.
“So I kind of combined everything I knew all into one,” said Starkey. “I did choreography for the girls, and their first time right out [of] the box they won. They placed first in their division.”
“We were determined to make a dream [of winning nationals] turn into a reality by bringing back a championship win, because it’s been years since the West Philadelphia cheerleading team placed in a large-scale competition,” said Little.
Little and Starkey took a leap on faith and entered the team into a competition where they would compete against three schools from other states. The team placed 1st in their division, making them qualified to compete in the U.S. Cheer Finals.
The girls competed in the advanced non-mount division, meaning they were judged on tumbling, jumps, choreography and cheers.
“We didn’t think that the girls are ready to do pyramids, like truly advanced stunts,” said Starkey. “But they do really well with floor routines, tumbling and cheering.”
They prepared for months with practices held at the Cobbs Creek Recreation Center.
“We usually run a mile to warm up and then we come in and do jumping jacks, sit ups and then isolations,” said Starkey. “Then we go into tumbling or stunts we have to prepare for and then we work on our routines, which includes cheer and dance.”
Beyond the hard work and practice these cheerleaders have put in, they have been raising money and holding fundraisers to help pay for their trip.
“We have a GoFundMe website and we reached out on social media, so we had a lot of donations from alumni and people were just pouring in donations,” said Starkey. “We also had a smoothie bar and sold smoothies at the recreation center. Every little bit helped.”
Outside of cheerleading, the girls are expected to perform well in the classroom. They are required to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. As a result of the requirements set by the coaches, the team – which started out with about 25 girls – is now down to just five.
“We try to run a strict program. I mean if your grades aren’t right you can’t participate,” said Starkey. “Because we want our girls to be scholar athletes, not just athletes with average grades.”
Starkey has been working with the girls since they first entered high school. She has been able to watch them grow, as young ladies and cheerleaders, which has been a rewarding experience.
“They’re an interesting group of girls, they’re growing up and going through changes,” said Starkey. “So it’s fun to see their different personalities and how they change from ninth grade to 12th grade.”
Bringing home a trophy would be the cherry on top of a great cheerleading season for the girls, but winning wasn’t the only thing the coaches hoped for.
“We expect the team to gain knowledge, meet teams across the U.S. and demonstrate leadership, sportsmanship, scholarship and craftsmanship we try to instill in them,” said Little.
“I just want them to have a good time and take in the opportunity,” said Starkey.
After a long season of hard-work, dedication and improving themselves as a cheerleading team, the girls were able to turn their dreams of winning a national title into a reality.
“The team was able to pull another first place win and were officially named U.S. Finals Champions for their division of advanced non-mount,” said Little.
– Text, images and video by Chelsea Koerbler and Joie’ Johnson-Walker