Kentucky cheerleading team brings home world title

Published 6:18 am Saturday, February 26, 2022

Cheerleaders are omnipresent across the spectrum of sports. Especially in football and basketball — both male and female competitions — they are always there to fire up their teams and the crowd. They are the first to celebrate a good score, and equally important they are the squad that jumps in to encourage their team to overcome setbacks and try harder.

With rhythm, dance, acrobatics and an unquenchable fire, they compliment and support every team that takes the field, court or arena — and no sporting event would be the same without their shouted encouragement echoing from the top of a human pyramid. In a very real way, they personify what is best in sports because it is their ultimate goal to bring out the best in others.
Also, they have their own sport: Competitive cheerleading.

On Feb. 15, the Greenup County cheerleaders returned from National and World competitions, and Greenup County residents cheered for them as they made their own victory lap around Greenup County High School.

Escorted by fire engines and greeted with signs and banners, and a cacophony of car horns, air horns and shouted “congratulations,” the 2022 squad returned with multiple wins and assorted trophies — including the first title of World Champions. They overcame adversity, injury and assorted setbacks to bring home the win.

Senior Casey Holmes commented on what it took to achieve that win, giving credit to her teammates and coaches.

“This team has worked harder than any team I’ve ever been on, and they were truly a TEAM this season,” Holmes said. But the senior was quick to say that there is more to a team than simply sharing a uniform.

“I think sticking together and being more family than teammates goes a long way,” she said.

Respect and love for the people who supported them and trained them was also central to their success, she said.

“We all have so much respect for our coaches,” Holmes said, especially head coach Candy Berry. “Before we would perform, we always said ‘DIFC,’ do it for Candy.”

Holmes said the competition was a culmination of the hard work and dedication of every single teammate and coach.

“We put in lots of time and energy to be the best teammates we could be for each other. Even through injuries, we still would put in the best effort that we could,” she said.

“At Nationals we had a freshman break her hand and do 12 fulls and four performances on it,” Holmes said, amazed at the toughness and dedication of her fellow cheerleaders, especially given the fact that many of them were quite young. “There’s only four upperclassmen so it was a very young team. For them to be so young, we were all so proud of how talented they were.”

Faith and respect are also hallmarks of the team, Holmes said. “We always say the Lord’s Prayer before we perform to make sure he keeps us safe and blesses us. We prayed for a national title, but God decided to show us the world.”

Cali Warnock, the young athlete who suffered an injury, was a mirror to all the athletes throughout sports history who refused to be sidelined by injury and played through the pain to support her teammates.

Warnock’s mother, Shawnda Warnock, said her daughter hurt her hand at the beginning of the competition.

“I kept asking her about it,” Warnock said. “But she kept telling me she was fine. She said to just wrap it up, and I’ll be good to go.”

The cheerleader was helped by a team physical therapist who repeatedly iced her hand and checked on her as well, but when they returned home Warnock said that her daughter had in fact broke her hand.

“My husband has coached football for years, and he said that he didn’t know if he had seen any football players as tough as her,” Warnock said.

“I just can’t believe she went through four performances with a broken hand,” added Warnock, a former cheerleader. “… This whole team has been fighters from the beginning. They all go into it with the mindset that they are there for each other. … I think this team this year truly personified what it was like to stick it out together. They had some rough times, but they were always there for each other.”

Berry, who has been part of the cheerleading program since the 1970s, said her kids put in an extreme amount of effort on the road to the win, but that they were extremely easy to coach.

“They all had the same goal, and they knew what it took to achieve that goal,” Berry said. “Any time you coach a group of teenagers it can be hard at times. But this was a really good, focused group that ranged from Grade 8 to seniors.”

Berry said they all worked incredibly hard, and that the competition was more in depth than many might realize.

“There are actually two competitions going on at the same time,” she said. “One is the National High School Cheerleading Championships, and we competed in the Medium Division.” That division she said is broken up into three rounds. The school placed third in preliminaries, first in semis, and in finals (in spite of a fall) the group still placed third. The second competition, conducted on Sunday, was the World Competition, which Berry said is by invitation only.

“The kids had a perfect performance and scored in the mid-90s,” Berry said proudly. “That was a fantastic score, and we won World School in the Medium Division. They all wanted those white jackets because that signifies that you are a world champion.
“But, to me,” Berry said with an emotional catch in her voice, “their performance signified that they were world champions, not the white jackets. And I am just super proud of them.”

Assistant coach Allison Trujillo shared Berry’s pride at her cheerleaders’ accomplishment. Trujillo cheered Varsity under Berry from 2007-11, and after four years of college, she went on to become the official assistant coach. She won two national championships and has coached two national championship teams — so when Trujillo commends the 2022 team for their dedication and commitment, she truly has an inside understanding of just what it takes to earn their accomplishments.

“It takes dealing with a lot of pressure, and they need to have a lot of stamina to do what they have done,” she said. “And this group is very determined and very hard-working.”

Trujillo said one of the things she is proud of in the Greenup County cheerleading program is that what they learn goes beyond sports and into the real world as well.

“We always tell them that we are preparing them for life after high school,” she said. “It is an athletic program, but its more than that. We try to teach them things like responsibility, and the hard work and determination that they are going to need to be successful as adults. And the program teaches them leadership skills that will carry forward into their future. I am very proud of them as athletes and as students. And their achievement is awesome.”

Assistant coach Hunter Scott said he was excited and proud of the team.

Scott, a former cheerleader, said the “young” team mostly comprised of underclassman was amazing.

“We were thrilled,” Scott said. “And very proud of them all.”

Scott said most people may not be aware of all the hard work that goes into cheerleading.

“Most people never see the work, the sweat and the tears that go into it,” Scott said. “And the sacrifices these girls make for the sport, the missed time with family and holidays, are all part of it. From tryouts in May until February, they are all in and committed. And it is just wonderful to see them achieve their goals after all that hard work.”

Greenup County cheerleaders are part of a dynasty built on sweat, dedication and determination. This year’s team brought home the first World title, but it likely won’t be the last.

The future is sure to hold new challenges and new uncertainties, but the team will no doubt meet those obstacles with the same heart, with the same grit and commitment, that has been their hallmark over the years. Whatever comes their way, they will also meet it as a family.