Cebe Schneider has been coaching cheer at Dickinson High for years, bringing back championship after championship with her talented team.
After competing at a competitive high school level, the Midgets graduates had nowhere nearby to continue their craft at the next level, so Schneider called Dickinson State.
"I called expressing concern that there was no feeder program for the really talented athletes we had graduating high school; kids who are interested in attending Dickinson State, but who also want to remain in cheer," Schneider said. "They said, 'Hey, we couldn't be more delighted to have somebody with your qualifications calling us. Would you be interested in meeting with us and talking to us about what this program would be like?'"
Schneider did just that and by the meetings end, she was offered the coaching position. With that, the Blue Hawk competitive cheer program was born. The program is serving its initial purpose well in providing a place for Dickinson High graduates to continue cheering after
Schneider and co-head coach Audrey Lenz see them leave.
"It has long been a vision of ours and a desire of ours to take cheer in our state, in our area, to the next level," Schneider said. "Athletes that have gone through the program over the last several years have been a part of raising cheer to that level. When you watch what cheerleaders do, there's no question they're athletes. ... The strength, the coordination, the agility, the speed, endurance, the cardio, everything that it takes is all athleticism. And they do that while yelling and smiling."
With the Dickinson State program, Schneider and the team are not only raising the bar, but gathering respect for the sport from a broader audience.
In her first year at the helm, Schneider and her squad spread spirit throughout campus while creating a foundation for the program to build on.
The team donned massive 'D', 'S' and 'U' flags at football games in addition to cheering and performing, bring the spectator experience to the next level. A small group sideline cheers at basketball games as well. All the while, the team is preparing for when they can officially compete among NAIA teams in the 2020-21 season.
Additionally, the team represents the school and the athletics program at events around campus.
Schneider said she's sad the originals, or the 'OGs' as she called them, didn't get the same recognition as the current signing class, as building the roster got swept together in creating the program. That being said, she thinks it's pretty clear their hard work and talent has been noticed.
"To reach a collegiate level of cheer in one year with the few people we had and limited time to make that happen is almost inconceivable," Schneider said. "The DSU community, the alumni, the athletics program, the administration across the board, the students, were just simply blown away by what happened. We were also blown away by how well-received our efforts were and how supportive all those entities were."
Ahead of the 2018-19 school year, Schneider convinced her daughter Dakia Schneider to come to Dickinson State from South Dakota State, while daughter Kierra Schneider went straight from Dickinson High to Dickinson State.
Coach Schneider has another daughter still at Dickinson High, Teandra, who won the All-Around cheerleader award at the state championship in March. Both Dakia and Kierra have won the award in the past.
Also in the original cheer roster, was Lillyanna Connaughton, who was not only a part of the DHS state championship team, but helped a small group of Midgets cheerleaders take fourth at the National Cheerleading Competition in February 2018.
"If you take Lisa (Townsend) and Heidi (Jazwa) and Jakob (McGraw) and Gabby besides Dakia and Kierra and Lilly, what those kids did last year and the kinds of stunts they were putting up and the energy they were bringing event after event after event that they attended, they showed the university that we are here, we are here to stay," Schneider said. "What we're doing here, it's important and it matters to us. We're committed."
The first class coached under Schneider had 10 former Midgets and the 2019 signing class of 13 that will double the roster from the previous year, features 11 former Midgets. Reegan Mosley of Miles City, Mont., and Williston State College transfer Abbie Deubner will also join the ranks next year.
The seven Dickinson senior girls (Madelaine Billings, Natalie Lopez, Sarah Braun, Alexis Lefor, CaSarah Vannatta, KeAnna Alexander and Ayana Freeman) and four boys (Chandler Wanner, Sebastian Weidner, Ki-Jhana Chavez and Brendan Johnson) will trade their orange and black for blue and white next fall.
The girls helped the Midgets cheer team to a third-consecutive Class A state championship in March, with Schneider being named Coach of the Year.
"These young men and women are excited about this," Schneider said. "They see the potential and they know we're doing something that's important and fun and it allows them to bring something that hasn't been there before and to use talents and skills that they have to take something to the next level."
The males don't lack experience though, as all four participated in the Mangettes homecoming performance or have ample athletic experience.
For the past five years, Schneider coaches about a dozen senior boys in what she calls the Mangettes. Participants do some stunts and tumbling and compile the skills into a four-minute show.
"They do this performance, it's really cool," Schneider said. "They do it during the homecoming pep rally and the students look forward to it, the kids that are a part of it look forward to it and it's kind of a big deal to get to be in it now. It's a thing."
2019 DSU Cheer signing class:
Madeleine Billings Dickinson High
Natalie Lopez Dickinson High
Sarah Braun Dickinson High
Alexis Lefor Dickinson High
CaSarah Vannatta Dickinson High
KeAnna Alexander Dickinson High
Ayana Freeman Dickinson High
Chandler Wanner Dickinson High
Sebastian Weidner Dickinson High
Ki-Jhana Chavez Dickinson High
Brendan Johnson Dickinson High
Reegan Mosley Miles City, Mont.
Abbie Deubner Williston State College