Both the Apollo and Daviess County cheerleading programs teamed up to practice at the Cheer Zone Wednesday night as they both prepared for the state competition on December 9 and 10.
The E-gals and Lady Panthers are getting into red-hot status, having both recently qualified for nationals to the UCA Bluegrass Regionals. They will also be joined by a number of other local teams, as Daviess County head coach Kitty Jones wanted to wish them all the best of luck ahead of competing this weekend.
“All of our local teams had strong performances in the UCA qualifiers getting offers and I want to thank them too,” said Jones. “Good luck to Owensboro High School both State and making the move to the Nationals along with Burns Middle School. I also want to thank the Apollo High School cheerleading program and their coaches for joining us in achieving a common goal. Wishing them good luck to the state in their division.
Head Coach Wes Nall was pleased with Apollo’s performance at Bluegrass competition, but knew he had many areas where he could improve.
“Our traditional performance in competitions included a few stunt execution mistakes that cost us 8 points on our final score,” said Nall. “We still managed a 72… Those scores are outstanding. We were able to keep the lead over Owensboro and secure our bid by being excellent on those two scoresheets. In our Game Day split, we finished third and once again erred in executing stunts. That lone mistake easily cost us second place. I could argue we would have been in the running first with perfect execution, but we were up against a very good team from Daviess County. It would have been tough.”
Jones thought the Lady Panthers also did a good job overall, but was able to use the National Qualifiers as a learning experience to help them grow going into the second half of the season.
“I felt like our Game Day performance was outstanding, however our score was slightly lower than our previous competition,” Jones said. “We’ve tweaked a few things and taken the feedback from our score sheets to hopefully improve our score moving forward. Our traditional 2.5 squad had a great first half of their performance getting an offer and we now have a good understanding of what we need to work on to get into Nationals.”
Entering the competition in mid-November also allowed Nall and Jones to gauge where their teams were as they focused on internationals, noting that they were up against stiff competition.
“Kentucky is a leading state in nationals and Bluegrass is one of the biggest qualifiers each year,” Nall said. “In some of these divisions, like small D2 varsity, you can imagine that the top 10 at the Nationals will include 5-8 teams from Kentucky in any given year.”
Unsurprisingly, however, both programs qualified for nationals, as the Daviess County and Apollo cheerleading squads were very successful in the past. The E-gals have qualified for the nationals in seven consecutive years, not counting the 2020-21 season which COVID-19 interfered with.
“We ran two deals for most of those years and three in 2019-2020,” said Nall. “The total, including this weekend, is 15 out of 15 bid attempts. I don’t want to say it’s the ‘standard’, but I have confidence in the way we approach these qualifiers.”
On the other hand the success of the Lady Panthers dates back to the late 1980s and early 1990s as Jones credits the former Daviess County teams and current assistant coach Sally Ward for creating the previous for the success of the program.
“It was definitely a relief to qualify in our traditional 2.5 split as the finish to our routine that day wasn’t great,” Jones said. “However, qualifying for the Nationals is a standard for Daviess County cheering that was set years ago when one of our current coaches, Sally Ward, took the team as head coach to the Nationals in 1994, leading to success in the ninth place in 1999. Sally also participated as a member of the team in 1989 placing 11th.There were also several successful years at the national level under the coaching of Tammy Morgan.”
At the National Qualifiers, Jones felt like the Lady Panthers executed their wit and sharpness well, but they had some timing issues that didn’t work well in some areas. To prepare for entering the state, Jones and his staff scrutinized every move in their Game Day routine to make for cleaner transitions, tighter moves, and higher energy.
Nall said E-gals have been working on improving their stunt execution to be nationally competitive, as this has been a major focus in the practice leading up to the state and will continue to be a point of emphasis as they prepare for citizens in January.
With two programs that are fiercely competitive and always looking for improvement with the goal of bringing home some hardware, Jones has reached the idea of coaching at the beginning of the 2022 postseason. Both programs have not always gone from agreement, but the practice was a way to bridge the gap between the two by pushing them to want more of themselves towards the end of the year.
“I reached out to Coach Nall before the KHSAA Regionals and asked if they would like to train together, he was right there,” Jones said. “Even though we are hometown rivals, coming together to practice has built a great relationship between the programs once they split. He has pushed athletes out of their comfort zone and taught them how to have good sportsmanship even when competing against each other in UCA qualifiers. We encouraged each other, along with the parents from each program, and shared feedback amongst ourselves.
Nall noted that the chance to train together was a big motivator for the two teams, noting that cheerleaders don’t have as much competition while your major sports teams would play game speed two to three times a week. And while both programs have buried the hatchet in terms of division in the past, the competitive hunger to be the best hasn’t changed between Daviess County and Apollo.
“Our teams are competitive, both in general and with each other,” said Nall. “I have known their coach for a long time. Kitty was one of the first people I met when I moved to Owensboro in 2004. Placing them side by side in practice, gives them that little vibe of competition that cheerleaders don’t have… Cheerleading competitions are weeks apart or sometimes months. It’s very easy to become stagnant. These are practices and the environment is mostly positive and encouraging, but don’t think for a minute that someone is sending it to the rival school in the building.
While finishing top of the competition in the Nationals is a top priority for both programs, this weekend they will have the state competition first.
Jones said the Lady Panthers will need to execute the changes they’ve made with confidence and bring in enough energy along with sharpness to keep a room from coming out a winner. Nall shared a similar idea, noting that there will be little to no room for error for e-girls to be among the best the Commonwealth has to offer.
“Obviously we have to execute our skills successfully,” said Nall. “The state is a monster for us. Graves County and McCracken County nearly strangled first and second places. They will both be on top teams in their divisions at Nationals. They are loaded. We have to execute, not give up points due to mistakes and look for one of them to open a door for us.”
Is competitive cheer considered a sport?
Cheerleading has contests and they score and they win just like any other sport.” Shaneace Virgil, a Bowie State graduate and former Golden Girl, said by definition cheerleading is a sport. This may interest you : BCH Sports Cheerleaders of the Week: Week 8 Clyde. “Cheerleading encompasses many different aspects — from physicality to the show,” Virgil said.