Competitive cheer reaches new heights

At the United All Stars gym, the senior competitive cheer team is going farther than ever this year.

The “Ice” team, a coed group of students 18 and younger, has been to contests in Des Moines, Chicago, Kansas City Sioux Falls and Omaha. Now, on March 15, they want to attend the CANAM national cheer competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“This has really been probably our best year with our senior team,” DeBaun said. “They’ve won every one of their competitions. Except at super-nationals in Indianapolis, they got second. That’s competing with teams from all over the United States.”

“This group is like our dream team, what we’ve always wanted to become,” said team member Abby Shimon, a senior at Fort Dodge Senior High.

Shimon has been with the gym since it was founded eight years ago, she said.

DeBaun said her young men and women have measured up nicely against those other teams.

The kids are eager to attend Myrtle Beach, she said, but they’re nervous about the fundraising.

“We have a big amount of money to raise, $10,000, which seems huge,” said Karlee Frein, a senior at FDSH. “But it’s been incredible how many people have come together to say they would help.”

The team has received sponsorships from multiple businesses, DeBaun said. On Valentine’s Day they performed Cheer Valentines for paying supporters. They held a garage and bake sale Feb. 16.

More fundraisers are planned. From 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, they will hold a middle school Valentine’s Dance for fifth through eighth grades at the gym.

A United Kids’ Carnival will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the gym. Also, from now until March 10 the team will be accepting donations of pop cans and bottles at the gym, in a project called “Cans for CANam.”

More than just the seniors are excited for the trip.

“I especially like the younger teams, they’re the ones that are super excited about helping raise money for this,” Shimon said. “They’re donating their cans, their stuff for the garage sale, because they want to be in our place when they get older.”

What does it take to make it this far?

“Practice every day. Tons of conditioning,” said Kendra Nelson, a senior at Prairie Valley High School.

Though the females outnumber the males, both are represented on the team.

This is Dakota VanHauen’s first year with the team, and because of his age, also his last. VanHauen, 18, is a freshman at Iowa Central Community College.

“I came down here for Iowa Central cheer, and I was watching their practice one day and was like ‘Oh my gosh, I would love to be on that team,'” VanHauen said. “Then I asked Mindy and she said it shouldn’t be a problem.”

VanHauen knew he wanted to attend ICCC when he saw their cheer team at state. He started competitive cheer as a senior at Central Springs High School, near Mason City, though he was initially worried about what people would think.

“Finally I just went out my senior year and I had a blast. It was the best thing ever,” he said.

For eight of the 20 competitors, DeBaun said, this will be their last year in the group.

“It’s hard because half the team, they’ve been with me so long, they’re just a close-knit family of kids,” she said. “A few of these kids have been with me for almost eight years, since I started United.”