POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Poplar Bluff High School reinstated its Competition Cheer Squad this past spring and by summertime, the cheerleaders were named state champions for the first time in school history.
If that is not enough, the squad, along with the rest of the Junior and Senior High Cheerleaders, swept the Gator Bowl competition this winter, bringing home three national awards.
"They asked to be able to have a Competition Cheer team this [school] year; mind you, this is a team that has not gone into competition for three years," said R-I Athletic Director Kent Keith, noting that 2004 was the last year Poplar Bluff Schools placed in states. "So they have a three-year layoff, new coaching staff, and become the state champs, then compete successfully at Gator Bowl. To me, it's almost overwhelming—more than you can ask for and more than you can expect coming in as AD."
Along with the cheerleaders, the coaches: Stephanie Hillis of the varsity squad, Misty Wiseman over JV and Junior High's Christy Young presented their trophies during the school board meeting Thursday in the Administrative Building.
The PBHS Cheerleading team took first place in the Large Squad Division against competitors from nine other states and Poplar Bluff Junior High School won the Small Squad Division against high school students on Sunday, December 29, during the Gator Bowl Cheerleading Competition at Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
To top it off, the Poplar Bluff fans won the 'Most Spirited' award and Leeza Edmundson, a PBHS junior, was chosen to sing the National Anthem. Due to their success during the pre-show activities, the Mules cheerleaders were positioned front and center among about 150 students during the Gator Bowl parade and half-time show on New Year's Day.
"It was a great experience, doing something on that large of a scale with such a talented group and so much support from the school," Hillis told the board. "The community backed us big time as well."
After the 47 cheerleaders were informed they were selected to perform at Gator Bowl in April, they raised more than $30,000 to sponsor the trip, hosting numerous fundraisers which included selling merchandise, hosting a yard sale, a pancake breakfast, a girls night out and partnering with Marble Slab Creamery to serve ice cream.
Top sponsors were Sterling Bank, Cane Creek Sod, the Rotary Club of Poplar Bluff, Las Margaritas and First Community Bank. Dozens of other businesses and individuals also made generous contributions to the effort. In the end, the Mules Booster Club donated $3,000 to allow the cheerleaders to reach their monetary goal. Supportive from the beginning, the boosters purchased six mats for the cheerleading program so higher level tosses and tumbles can be practiced safely, when administrators gave the coaches their blessing to enter the competition circuit in March.
In September, the squad placed first in the Class 4 Large Division at the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association State Championship in Columbia. To qualify, they first defeated Sikeston at regionals in July.
"We started from the bottom up," said Savannah Weitzel, a junior. One of her favorite Gator Bowl memories, she noted, was that she was able to share the experience with her freshman sister Mallory, also a cheerleader.
Another unforgettable moment for the cheerleaders was when the local media—the Daily American Republic, greeted them in the early morning hours once they returned to city limits. Officers of the Poplar Bluff Police Department were also there to escort the bus back to school campus with sirens flashing, thanks to Ptlm. Jim Gerber, who has a 16-year-old daughter, Katie, on the team.
An unsung hero who helped the cheerleaders put Poplar Bluff on the map was James Martin, a choreographer based out of Jonesboro, Ark. Martin was responsible for working with the Cheer Squad to develop the routine that originally brought forth state recognition. The routine was later modified for Gator Bowl to include the rest of the high school cheerleaders. Young exclusively worked with the Junior High cheerleaders.
"It's a symphony of mass chaos," described Martin, who has worked on and off with Poplar Bluff Schools for a decade. "You put the ladies in front who draw crowd interest and disburse specific talent—set some tumbling, others doing handsprings—building up anticipation, keeping crescendo, inserting lulls and a series of 'wow' moments."
Martin referred to the supportive community, school leaders, coaching staff and talented cheerleaders as the "perfect storm," concluding: "The craziest part is they're going to be even better next year."