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Deb Gaines, coach of the Breckenridge varsity competitive cheer team, follows flyers through a practice routine. Gaines recently returned to coaching the Huskies with the goal of returning the team to prominence in competitive cheer. (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Competitive Cheerleading

PREP COMPETITIVE CHEER: Former powerhouse Breckenridge flying high again after five-year absence

Deb Gaines, coach of the Breckenridge varsity competitive cheer team, demonstrates how top team members should look if the Huskies want to return to prominence in competitive cheer. (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Deb Gaines, coach of the Breckenridge varsity competitive cheer team, puts her soul into leading the Huskies back to prominence in competitive cheer. (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Deb Gaines, coach of the Breckenridge varsity competitive cheer team, puts her team through the paces during practice trying to lead the Huskies back to prominence in competitive cheer. (Photo by Skip Traynor)

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From 2000 through 2007, Breckenridge High School was the prominent competitive cheer powerhouse in the entire state.

The Huskies won a state title in seven out of those eight years and finished second in Class C-D the other year (2003), giving them as strong a stretch of excellence as just about any program spanning all MHSAA sports.

Winning with a tremendous amount of skill and style, it seemed as though Breckenridge cheer was a freight train that could not be stopped.

“Those teams just plain worked hard,” long-time Huskies competitive cheer coach Deb Gaines said. “In fact, we have had a tumbling business in town (Tumble Tyme) and a lot of those kids came in through the tumbling so they came in stronger. They knew cheerleading. It had been here and they knew what to do.”

But then, in the blink of an eye the Huskies varsity program disappeared in 2008.

How does a program with so much success simply go away?

“We only had a few girls returning in 2008 and our middle school numbers had dwindled,” Gaines said. “It was just time to give the program a break.”

So from 2008-09 through the 2012-13 season, the Breckenridge competitive cheer team simply did not exist at the varsity level.

The key for Gaines was to focus on the lower ranks, so that is exactly what she did along with the help of her daughter Jenna who graduated in 2003 and has helped coach at Breckenridge ever since.

Gaines was actually ready to retire from coaching after the 2007 state title and nothing more coming through the ranks, but something about a group of Breckenridge fifth graders made her realize that a new challenge was a smarter plan instead of a full departure from competitive cheer.

That group of cheerleaders was tasked with the goal of bringing Breckenridge cheer back to the varsity level, not exactly an easy proposition considering what the Huskies have accomplished over the previous decade-plus.

It started with competing in youth events, followed by middle school and last year Breckenridge even had a junior varsity team as a portion of the roster made its way into the ninth grade.

Finally, the 2013-14 campaign brought with it the return of the Breckenridge varsity competitive cheer team with a 12-girl roster comprised entirely of eight sophomores and four freshmen.

The Huskies, while obviously extremely young and inexperienced right now, returned to the varsity scene in style.

In its first varsity meet since 2008 back on Dec. 14, Breckenridge won the Chesaning Invite with a cumulative score of 658.74 to edge the hosts (655.32).

Alexandria Gillis, one of those four freshmen on the Huskies roster, talked about the excitement of winning the first meet after such a long absence for the program.

“At that point, our first and third rounds weren’t even finished so to have that win without even having finished rounds was definitely a huge confidence boost for us,” Gillis said.

Gillis has participated in cheer since sixth grade, having always wanted to be a cheerleader because her mother was also a cheerleader at Breckenridge High School.

“We are definitely focused on getting the program back to where it was,” Gillis said.

Since the opening meet win, the Huskies have taken second at a pair of meets at Merrill and Alma College.

The goal right now is bigger than wins in that they just want to keep improving every day so the program eventually has a chance to get closer to where it was in its heyday.

Many of the girls have had to learn brand-new skills especially in tumbling, while also increasing their overall strength and agility.

Basically, anyone with the thought process that competitive cheer is a fluff sport that anyone can do is wildly off base.

To become a great champion such as the Breckenridge teams of the past, it requires an intense practice regimen to hone the choreography and various skills.

It also can take years and years of involvement to perfect the craft, which is why most of the Huskies roster started cheer in elementary school.

“The sport is new to them but in just a few years, the team has conquered many requirements of cheer,” Gaines said. “They have become stronger and have learned discipline along with a strong work ethic. The athletes must be able to perform jumps, tumbling skills, stunts, precise arm motions, and floor formations while yelling and performing with exciting facial expressions. With hard work and patience, they’ll continue to make big strides in the direction we are headed.”

Breckenridge freshman Maddy Smith began doing cheer clinics in second grade and her mother was also a cheerleader, giving her plenty of incentive to help the program get back on its feet.

“This program was a state champion seven times and I expect nothing less of this team,” Smith said. “Cheer has always been a goal of mine and when this program fell, I knew I wanted to be part of getting this program rolling again.”

Dakota Colthorp is one of the eight sophomores who has been given a little bit more responsibility than a typical sophomore in that with no upperclassmen on the team, the leadership responsibilities fall on the sophomore class.

Colthorp has competed in cheer since sixth grade and was motivated immediately to keep improving.

“When I started in cheer, I really was not that good,” Colthorp said. “But I saw the excitement in it and everyone was excited that Breckenridge was having a team back. My class is the class that started bringing everything back. I was just happy to be part of something.”

Colthorp, through the precise teaching of the Gaines’, has improved her cheer skills to the point where she is one of the leaders who are turned to when others on the team might need some direction.

“A lot of people come to me and I take it on,” Colthorp said. “I know how young we are, so I accept that I have to be a leader. I kind of like that because it challenges me to be better.”

Gaines’ goal is to eventually have the program return to the MHSAA competitive cheer state finals.

“I set high but attainable goals for them and give the positive encouragement that they need. I enjoy watching them work to achieve,” Gaines added.

Last Updated: 1/18/2014 5:45:31 PM EST