Tigers to compete in Dallas on Saturday and Sunday

Jordan Sytsma was noticeably nervous as she stood to the side and watched her Gilbert competition cheer squad prepare to perform in front of friends, family, and the entire community during halftime of the boys’ basketball game last Friday night.

This was the squad’s last chance for a full out in front of a crowd before it departs on Thursday for the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) High School Nationals and Sytsma, the Tigers’ head coach, wanted perfection.

No coach ever gets perfection but, hey, they can dream, right?

“Friday was stressful,” Sytsma said. “To put them out in front of the entire community, that’s a pressure cooker. But I was very happy. I’ll always nit-pick things because you’re always striving to be better, but it went really well.”

With a little extra fine-tuning this week, the comp cheer squad hopes it will perform even better this weekend when it steps onto the big stage inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, for nationals. Competing in the Small Varsity Game Day Division, the Tigers will showcase their routine during the semifinals on Saturday, and again during the finals on Sunday. The semifinal performance will account for 25 percent of their overall team score, while Sunday’s finals will make up the remaining 75 percent.

Gilbert’s three-minute routine is comprised of a band chant, situational response, and the school fight song. The routine itself was choreographed way back in August, although it had to be put on the back burner somewhat until following the state competition in November.

It’s not an easy routine. It’s not a safe routine. And that’s precisely what the squad’s 14 members — Carly Dolan, Clair Lewis, Grace Lornston, Julia Lewis, Anella Troncoso, Lulu Smith, Liz Fierce, Addie Pink, Payton Crawford, Ella Overman, Olivia Schuelka, Riley Lempiainen, Ava Price, and Blair Hibbing — wanted.

“We’re always pushing ourselves and taking risks, and the kids want that,” Sytsma said. “We’re not going to put out a safe routine. These girls want to be challenged, they want to take risks. We’re going to swing for the fences.”

Gilbert, which won back-to-back Class 3A state cheerleading titles prior to this season’s state runner-up finish, is one of only four schools in Iowa that will compete at nationals. Waukee, Waukee Northwest, and Mason City will join the Tigers in Dallas.

This year’s NCA High School Nationals will be the largest field in the 75-year history of the event. While that may seem daunting, it only adds to the excitement for Gilbert’s cheerleaders and coach. They’ve been together since June, working tirelessly to be ready for those six minutes on mat this weekend.

“The NCA’s tag line is the work is worth it, and I fully believe that,” Sytsma said. “It’s a ton of work, but the goal is to go down and do well. Just the experience of being able to compete on the national level is something I take a lot of pride in, as do the kids. They’re the first group from Gilbert to ever do that.

“This is the big leagues; you’re competing against the best of the best in the nation. Our kids want to go down and they want to win, which we are capable of doing.”

We wish Coach Sytsma and the girls nothing but the very best of luck this weekend. They’ve put in the time. They’ve put in the work. They’re ready. And we know they will represent our school incredibly well.