■ Alex Cass / Contributed
Three Hemet Unified cheerleading teams are advancing to the United Spirit Association’s (USA) National Spirit competition at the Anaheim Convention Center March 24-26. The cheerleading teams from Hemet and West Valley high schools will compete in the Co-Ed Varsity Novice division and Tahquitz High School will compete in the Co-Ed Varsity Non-Tumbling division.
This is the third year in a row Tahquitz High School’s cheerleading team has not only competed in the National Championship, but has won. Cheer Coach Sarah Peterson and her husband/Assistant Coach Michael Peterson, have created a formula in training the competition team. Sarah has judged competitions all over the United States for many years and has taken that knowledge and experience to create an exemplary squad. In most cheerleading competitions there is a minimal gap between the top 10 teams. She said first and second are normally separated by hundredths of a point, however, this has not been the case for Tahquitz. They typically beat the second place team by a 6- to 12-point gap margin.
The Petersons’ goal has been to change the perception of cheerleading throughout the valley. They wanted to show students and administrators that cheerleading is an athletic competition. Their main focus after taking over the program at Tahquitz was to recruit/enlist male athletes. The team now has four male athletes on the team, which has made them a force to be reckoned with.
Even though the Peterson’s goal was to build the cheer program at Tahquitz, they wanted to help the other valley schools continue to build their programs.
“I believe in healthy rivalries;” said Peterson, “rivalries where we challenge each other in positive ways.” She wants Hemet Unified to present a unified front at these competitions and have a Hemet school place first in each division. Also she wants there to be equal opportunity at the schools, so each cheerleader can have access to a great program and scholarship opportunities.
West Valley High School’s cheerleading competition team will be competing at Nationals for the first time in four years, said new head cheer Coach Skyla Stuck. A lot of the athletes this year are in their first year of cheerleading. She said the help received from Tahquitz has improved their program tremendously this year. However, the passion and dedication these athletes have put in this year should not be forgotten. Despite a few setbacks, the team earned their spot in the national competition and shook the cheerleading world.
Despite the many practices, the team is still energetic and excited for the upcoming competition.
“We bring each other up,” said Zachary Delany, “We are all working together, every person on this team makes it what it is.”
While Hemet High School has competed in nationals before, it hasn’t for some time. Hemet’s cheer coach Katelyn Powell said their goal this year is to make it to the top five. Like Stuck, Powell is a new head cheer coach. She added they have been practicing five days a week and have put their all into every minute.
“I am so proud of how hard my team has worked this year,” said Powell. “With a whole new program, this team has overcome many obstacles and stayed focused on the goal of making it to nationals.”
Congratulations Tahquitz, West Valley, and Hemet High cheerleading teams on advancing to the national competition! We wish you the best of luck as you compete on March 24-26 in Anaheim and we know you will represent Hemet Unified well.