Three local cheerleading teams are about to make history next month, as the first teams from the Interior to compete at the Summit Championship in Orlando, Florida.
The Arctic Chill, Shivers and Frost Bite, all teams from Interior Freeze Athletics, were awarded bids to the competition back in January, and now are in the process of fundraising to help cover the costs of the trip, spanning from May 1 to 7.
"Summit is the biggest cheerleading competition in the world for our levels," says Kennedy Michels, a 13-year-old who cheers for both Arctic Chill and Shivers. "When you first join cheer, one of the first things you learn – besides how to do cheerleading – is that Summit is the competition that you want to go to. It's the best of the best. Even if a girl has never seen a competition floor, chances are she's seen a picture of the Summit floor because it is just such a famous thing in the cheerleading world."
It's a huge accomplishment for Freeze Athletics: the competitive cheerleading gym only started back in the fall of 2014. Launched by Keri Lewis and Aly Bradford, the women sought to get cheerleading out from under the gymnastics umbrella and make it its own unique thing.
"We worked together at the gymnastics centre and there was a very small program there. It was clear that the community, there was a need for (its own gym). There was growth in the program, there was a ton of interest. I think with the passion that Aly and I have and that our coaches have, it just catches on like fire ... We were really excited to take that out of the gymnastics setting and really make it clear to the community and to our athletes that cheerleading is its own sport, its own community and its own family."
Now the program has 125 competitive athletes and 300 overall taking part. There's a total of eight competitive teams at Freeze, and Lewis still isn't quite sure how nearly half of them qualified for this year's Summit.
"I've been asking myself that question since we got the bids: How is it that for more than three years we've been working toward this, and all of a sudden we've got three teams going? I think that our coaches have been going to conferences and training and working hard to really understand how you hit the score sheet and how you compete well in terms of scoring. We've been bringing in some guest coaches from Oklahoma, Toronto, all over and every year we just get better," says Lewis.
This was also the first year that the New Years' Classic Competition in Vancouver had bids to Summit. Teams who declared ahead of time that they were aiming for Summit would qualify if they finished with a high enough score. Thanks to the introduction of a new international category at Summit, Frost Bite (which competes at Senior Level 2), already knew they had a bid after that event. But when the gym had a viewing party to see the full list of bids announced, the other two teams got a pleasant surprise.
"We knew that Frostbite was getting a bid, but we had a big revealing party on the TV at our gym, and we were watching it and some of the Arctic Chill and Shiver girls were there and weren't expecting it at all. Then all of a sudden, all of three of our teams popped up and we freaked out! We were so happy," says Michels.
Both teams received a wild-card bid, with Shiver competing at Junior Level 3, which is ages nine to 15, while Arctic Chill is a Senior Level 4 team. Seniors are ages 11 to 17.
Michels knows the competition in the U.S. is tougher than in Canada, having competed in past events in Washington and Pennsylvania. But she's looking forward to the experience."We do know we're not as good as U.S. teams, but we do stand a chance," she says. "I'm just excited to go and have the experience and say that I competed with my teams, family and friends and did a good job."
Lewis competed in world championship events in her high school days and knows what a special opportunity this is going to be for them.
"Just to have that experience is going to be a really special memory for them. So our first goal is to just have fun and experience it and enjoy it and, obviously, our second goal is to put the gym on the map a little bit. This our fourth year; we're fairly new and it's really exciting to be able to represent not only Canada, but B.C. ... You can tell the sport is growing when teams from small-town Kamloops can achieve this goal," says Lewis.
Of course, sending 38 girls to Disney World is not going to come cheap. A parent group from the gym has been fundraising tirelessly since the bids were awarded, with the goal of raising between $30,000 and $40,000.
"I'm not sure what the tally is at now, but we're getting there. I don't know if we're going to make it all the way to $30,000," says Lewis.
In order to help hit that goal, the gym will hold a showcase at SKSS on April 14. With performances starting at 4 p.m., locals will have a chance to donate to a good cause and see the routines that helped these girls qualify for Summit.
In the meantime, the teams have a great opportunity to warm up for Orlando by competing at the Sea to Sky Cheerleading Championships this weekend, the biggest contest in Western Canada.