By James Cullum (Courtesy photo)
Bishop Ireton swept the Christian Cheerleading Association’s 2017 national championships in Fayetteville, N.C. on Saturday. It was their second national title in as many years.
The Cardinals earned a combined score of 101.5 out of 100 in the large varsity category — the highest score ever — sweeping the musical and non-musical portions of the competition and walking away as the overall grand champions.
“We broke history,” said Ireton coach Angela Hope-Eskew. “We scored the highest score ever, and the association has been going since 1987. It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t even think straight when our score was announced.”
The Cardinals’ award-winning two and a half minute routine — one minute for cheering, the rest set to music — was performed in Fayetteville’s packed Crown
Coliseum. The routine was choreographed for the second straight year by Sheldon Bullock, coach of the nationally recognized Maryland Twisters cheer team.
This year’s routine included moving pyramids, basket tosses, one twist basket and two pikes, elite one-man stunts, four connected elite jumps, 360s, among other maneuvers.
“It was such an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it,” said team captain Eleanor Burling. “It’s a great way to represent our city and our school. It was the hardest routine we’ve ever performed.
“We got these extra points for doing college-level stunts, and we just all gave it our all. … It was a packed routine, we put a lot in it and it was really fun.”
Six seniors, including Burling, will be leaving the team at the end of the school year, and practice for next season begins in the middle of summer.
“We’re losing a lot of strength, but the girls are so committed to our team,” said Hope-Eskew. “It takes time management. All of them are cheer scholars, and almost the whole team has a 3.0 GPA, and they are all very dedicated to the program and their schoolwork.”
Burling will study nursing at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., this fall, and will try out to be a University of Notre Dame cheerleader.
“The girls I know on the team I will love and remember forever. We all call each other a ‘cheer family,’ and as girls we totally embrace that,” she said. “The first thing we did [after winning] was to call the seniors from last year and tell them that we did it again.”
Ireton’s first win at nationals was in 2011. Since there is no bench in cheerleading, all 20 of the girls from this year’s squad participated. The team practices eight months out of the year and performs at all home football and basketball games and pep rallies.
Burling said that cheerleading is about trusting your teammates and coaches.
“I know that no matter what, I’ll come back over school break and encourage next year’s team,” she said. “I’m so thankful to Coach Angela and Coach Whitney [Cook] and all of my fellow seniors, and I’m proud that we all worked together.”
Hope-Eskew said that the team’s philosophy is to work like crazy and trust in a higher power.
“We believe that practice and commitment makes us work and respect each other,” she said. “And we really focus on putting God first on the team. We pray before and after a meet and put our trust in the Lord.
“I think God was with us. It took everyone at every second doing what they were supposed to be doing. If one girl was off, it wouldn’t work.”