Dickinson State cheer finishes in fourth place at NAIA national championship
Its only the second year the Blue Hawks are taking part in competitive cheer, but they're already making waves on the national stage.
The Dickinson State Cheer team hasn’t been around for long, but they’re already making their mark in the sport.
For the first time in school history, the Blue Hawks made an appearance at the NAIA Competitive Cheer National Championship tournament, held in Ypsilanti, Michigan on March 11-12. Fifteen teams took part in the competition, eight automatic qualifiers and seven at-large bids.
This is only the second year the Blue Hawks cheer team has been in official competition. Over 90 different schools across the NAIA compete in cheer, so just appearing on the national stage was quite an accomplishment in itself.
Dickinson State was one of the seven at-large selections after finishing third in the Northeast Regional Qualifier in late February. They finished with a score of 89.76 behind second place Saint Ambrose University (92.89) and Oklahoma City University (94.94).
Going into the national competition, the Blue Hawks were tied for fifth in the nation with an average score of 88.34. Despite the nature of their appearance already standing out, they weren’t finished yet.
They performed above expectations in Ypsilanti, taking fourth in the national competition.
The preliminary round was held on Friday, March 11, where they scored an 88.50. On Saturday in the final round, they upped it to 90.55 for an overall score of 90.04. The preliminary round counts for 25 percent of the final score, with the other 75 percent coming from the final round.
It was an impressive finish at the competition considering they were at a slight disadvantage from other teams. In competition, the teams have to perform a certain amount of stunts and skills. Larger teams can divvy up these duties between more people, but for Dickinson State, they had to outwork their opponents with a limited number of athletes.
“When you’re asking nine athletes to do what 19 athletes are doing, those nine are working twice as hard,” Dickinson State cheer head coach Cebe Schneider said.
The nature of the competition had the Dickinson State cheer squad a little nervous in the beginning. But once they shook off the pregame jitters, they soared high.
“Our routine is awesome and our athletes are phenomenal, but it’s still kind of intimidating to see twice the athletes on the floor doing their stuff and knowing we’re following that,” Schneider said.
Despite it being the first time the Blue Hawks competed on the national stage, they didn’t feel out of place according to their peers.
“Multiple coaches as well as people who ran the event came up to me at different times and said ‘you have the nicest kids, you kids have the best attitude,’” Schneider said. “They also spoke of how clean of a routine we ran and how impressed they were with our athletes…that was really meaningful to me.”
That high praise from competitors gives the Blue Hawks more confidence in the future to build their program for years to come. Dickinson State has had their eyes at the top all along.
“It’s very exciting and it’s a lot of pressure,” Schneider said. “I’m not sure if other people put that pressure on us, but we will put it on us. We sat down at the beginning of the year and made goals and those were our goals. We wanted to get to nationals, earn an opportunity and place in the top 5.”
When scoring, judges look for complex routines, execution and degree of difficulty. If more risky stunts are performed with excellent timing and execution, that drives the score up.
“It should look like anybody could do it,” Schneider said. “When people try it and they’re saying how hard it is, that’s when you figure out what elite is.”
Schneider also noted that the Blue Hawks were the only team in the competition to have zero drops during the building portion of the routine on either day.
Another hurdle Dickinson State had to overcome was from the coaching side of things. Along with having more athletes, other schools had more coaches as well, including specific coaches dedicated towards coordinating stunts. For the Blue Hawks, it was just a staff of two between Schneider and assistant coach Dakia Brown.
With the cards seemingly stacked against them at the highest stage, their fourth place speaks volumes about the program just two years into being an official sport for Dickinson State.