Team Ivy Cheer at Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls has been working overtime to practice new cheers, chants, choreography and stunts for the LukeSports Cheer Off championship in March.
The program, in its second year at Kirkwood, is continuing to grow. The squad has 12 members, including five eighth graders. For the first time, sixth graders also were chosen to participate – a move to ensure the future stability of the squad.
“I really like working with all of the girls,” said Makayla Lewis, one of three sixth graders on the Kirkwood squad. “I am meeting people from different grades.”
Head coach of Ivy Cheer, Kelsea Shull, is also new to the squad this school year. Shull is a math teacher for Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls and Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy. She became a cheerleader in sixth grade and loved it so much that she cheered through grade school and college at Virginia Tech.
Ivy Cheer practices in Shullʼs room after school. On a recent day, their chants echoed through the hallways at Kirkwood: A-T-T-A-C-K! A-T-T-A-C-K! Attack! Attack! Attack!”
“We are really proud of them,” Shull said. “Since the beginning of the season, they have come so far not only in their choreography, but also in their cheers and chants. We have seen a lot of growth. Our eighth grade girls have stepped up as leaders to help our new girls.”
Gabrielle Jennings, an eighth grader, was named as the team captain. She said the squad is becoming more adventurous. Some girls are helping with choreography. “We do more dancing and halftime,” she said.
The cheer squad has been practicing since September for the March 13 cheer competition. The squad believes their unwavering school spirit helped the Knights of Ivy Prepʼs Young Menʼs Leadership Academy to rebound from a losing inaugural season last school year. The Knights now have a record of two wins and three losses. Basketball games are mostly played at home in the Kirkwood gym, also a new feature this season.
On Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Knights have a home game against KIPP Ways Academy. There are five games left in the regular season before playoffs begin.
The commitment to be a Kirkwood cheerleader goes beyond responsibilities at basketball games, Shull said. “The girls are here sometimes about 15 hours between games, practice, school, and homework support.”
Cheerleaders, like other athletes, can lose their privileges if their grades fall below requirements or they have behavioral problems. “We are preparing them for high school,” said Stephanie Mathurin, an assistant coach. “Our practices are intense. They still have to keep up with their homework. If they don’t have the grades, they sit out.”
McKenzie Gates said cheering may be exhausting, but she loves it. “Its fun – and really good exercise.”
“It is teaches us about hard work,” added Tanina Lima.
Assistant coach Kayla Eubanks said cheering teaches life lessons: “You have to work as a team no matter what. Whether youʼre tired, whether youʼre irritated, you have to persevere. There is a crowd watching you when you cheer on Friday nights. If you can cheer your heart out and feel good about what you are doing, then anything else is going to be easy.”