A group of 19 cheerleaders from Wilson and Rutherford counties is set to compete on the world stage in March after winning the Magnolia Championship in Jackson, Mississippi over the weekend.
Phoenix Cheer Athletics received a fully paid trip to the 2021 Quest Championship at Walt Disney World for their efforts. The bid caps off a year marked by uncertainty after COVID-19 threw off the team’s practice and competition schedules alike.
“This year’s been so hard and we needed that win,” Wilson Central High School student and team member Ansley Tucker said. “It boosted so much of our energy and confidence … we were all so excited.”
The Magnolia Championship was PCA’s only shot at a paid bid to Disney after the pandemic canceled other competitions throughout the year. Further complicating things, the group missed out on months of full team practices because of quarantines.
However, they were able to shake off their nerves and defeat 25 other teams in their first competition since receiving a nonprofit designation over the summer.
“One of my daughters is named Phoenix, and she’s been involved with cheer since she was a little kid,” PCA co-founder Wendi Slone said. “We started coaching at Walter J. Baird and noticed kids weren’t being allowed to compete at the really big competitions because of schools not being able to provide funding.”
Slone and other local coaches decided to start PCA in order to give students a chance to experience those events and have been fielding teams since 2017. Most of the students involved are also active cheerleaders at their respective schools.
“It makes them better students,” Slone said. “It gives them a drive to compete, and we require them to have at least a C average. We’re also teachers, so we work with them at school, through Zoom calls and even sit down at practice and help them with math.”
The group has previously found success at the Quest Championship and even placed second last year, but this is the first time they’ve received a fully paid bid. Roughly half of the students competing have been there before.
“Last year at Disney was very exciting and helped all of us become closer,” Walter J. Baird Middle School student Sophie Lowe said. “We’re hoping to beat the team we lost to last year and get first, so we need to get our priorities straight and practice as hard as we can to keep our focus.”
West Wilson Middle School student Kaylond Porter said the group practices for two hours twice a week and ramps up the schedule near competition dates.
“We’re all so focused, and I think it’s really cool that there’s people on our same level from around the world,” she said. “My favorite part is the anticipation and hype right before you step on the mat.”
Porter, like many of PCA’s athletes, followed her coaching staff to the team. Her sister Eden also got involved after watching a few practices, and both of them still cheer for West Wilson.
“It was crazy,” Eden Porter said of the team’s win over the weekend. “I still haven’t processed it and it’s been a week.”
Now the team’s sights are fully set on making a mark at the Quest Championship, and Slone said the goal is for the students to use that same drive to succeed after graduation.
“Just being able to know what it takes to be good at something is important,” she said. “We want them to know what it’s like to success and a passion for things they love. Even if it’s not cheerleading, it lets them understand what that’s going to take.”