By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
No matter the sport, it all comes down to one thing: a championship.
For the cheerleaders of East Fairmont and Fairmont Senior, falling short of that goal is unacceptable, as both squads will head to Charleston to take part in the state competition.
For East Fairmont, the bitterness of second best hangs over their head, as the Bees’ squad has unwrapped the gift of second place multiple times in the past few seasons. Instead, the squad is hoping to wrap its season up with a championship.
Asked if the goal was first place this season, head cheer coach Karen Beckman simply responded, “Of course.”
“That’s the goal every year,” she said. “It’s bound to happen one of these years.”
For Beckman’s Bees, team chemistry and leadership are key. And for two of those girls, this is their last chance at the prize.
“For two of my seniors, this is their third trip (to the state competition),” Beckman said of this year’s team. “Actually, most of them have experience at the state level. We’ve been very lucky to have been consistent in going down to the state competition.”
Beckman mentioned how proud she was of her squad for all the work and dedication they have put into the program, adding that she was “extremely pleased with the new girls for stepping up to the challenge of not watering down the routine.”
Seniors Ashlei Merrill and Kathleen Lantz are hoping to go out in a blaze of glory, or at least with a first-place trophy to hang their bows on at the end of the season.
“For it to be our last year, it would be amazing. These girls have worked so hard,” Merrill said of the chance to finish in first.
As for Lantz, her goal is to make a lifelong dream come true.
“It’s my last chance to win, and I’ve put so much hard work in since I was little and for the past four years,” Lantz said. “It would be nice to win.”
Most fans see only one side to cheerleaders on the sidelines of football and basketball games, but there’s more to them than skirts, ribbons and school spirit.
“We’re in the gym two to three hours every day except for Sunday, and it’s just hard work all the time,” Merrill said. “These girls have just pushed themselves hard all of the time.”
Lantz added to that sentiment, saying that teamwork and sisterhood are also key components.
“You have to have fun and be sisters or you won’t go anywhere,” Lantz said. “If one person isn’t concentrating, the whole build will fall apart. Being a flyer, you have to be able to trust your bases to catch you, and if you fall you have to be able to trust that they’ll move with you.”
As for the sisterhood aspect, freshman flyer Taylor Vincent, who took off several years of cheerleading in place of basketball, knows all about that.
“It was a lot of hard work (to build team chemistry),” Vincent said. “We had to get through a lot of stuff, a lot of hard work and frustration, but we got through it and we’re ready to go get that ring.”
Across town, Fairmont Senior’s cheer squad is preparing to win the same championship, something it hasn’t done since the 1999 season.
Senior Maddie Stevenski, among others, has been dreaming of this day since diapers.
After growing up with the tradition of going to the state competition, Stevenski will now be competing there.
“Oh my gosh. Me, personally, I’ve been going to states since I was a baby,” Stevenski said. “And now finally getting to compete is so exciting.”
Stevenski said that even though she joined the squad a little late because of soccer, she’s seen the hard work that the squad has been putting in since August.
“Every day we just work,” she said. “We just want to get everything perfect. No matter what, we want to go knowing we’ve done our best and that our coach has given us the skills we need to win.”
Fairmont Senior head cheer coach Nathy Janes is excited for the program as well.
“They are very excited,” Janes said. “We only have one girl who’s cheered for all four years, so this is huge for her. We do feel like this has been a rebuilding year, but we’ve been getting a little better each year.”
The Polar Bears haven’t been to the state competition since December 2006, but they’ll be looking to make some noise this year.
“We’re hoping to make a statement,” Janes said. “After having not been there since 2006, it’s good for the program to get back.”
Stevenski and the squad also think they have what it takes to claim the title.
“It has been a while since FSHS cheerleaders have been to states, and winning it would just be the icing on the cake,” Stevenski said.
As for those who don’t consider cheerleading a sport, East Fairmont’s Merrill said, “Just come watch it and see how fun it is.”
Action kicks off Friday at the Charleston Civic Center with Class AAA beginning at 10 a.m.
Email Matt Welch at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.