By Tony Jarrett
The Morgan High School cheer team soared past the competition this season en route to winning the state championship on Jan. 28, 2017. This crowning achievement followed the squad taking home the region championship the week prior and winning first place at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) regional division competition over eventual 5A state-champion, Bingham.
The team took top honors at state in the Varsity All-Girls Show Cheer, which is the most demanding and acclaimed event in Utah high school cheer. The show-cheer routine, which is 2.5 minutes long, combines stunting, cheering, dancing and tumbling. Only the top teams compete based on superior region performances.
Morgan boasts 30 team members, anchored by seven seniors (Brinley Dotson, Hailey Green, Kate Jarrett, Elly Montgomery, Alyssa Nelson, Kylee Nelson and Gwen Yorgason). The group is distributed fairly evenly among underclassmen with seven juniors, nine sophomores and seven freshmen. Further, the Trojans were led by first-year coach Sue Ann Kelsey, who cheered at Weber State University and coached a junior high competitive team for four years prior to taking the reins at MHS.
On championship day, Morgan was scheduled to perform second-to-last in the 3A group and before south-region champion, Desert Hills.
Jarrett remarked, “Before we went out, Sue Ann said ‘You’ve got this! We worked really hard all year! Everything hits!’ She just helped us feel confident.”
That confidence paid off. Nelson noted the team had not seen other 3A teams perform prior to entering the gym.
“But we felt awesome with our routine. We hit it solid,” added Green, “We felt like we were nearly flawless, even better than region.”
Yorgason confirmed, “We were pretty excited with our performance. And the crowd was talking about how well we did.”
Kelsey knew that their opponents were highly skilled and had spent countless hours working on their routines. She had witnessed daughter, Bailey, take home the state championship in 2015 with a narrow victory over Snow Canyon, and explained, “It comes down to execution. You have two and half minutes, that‘s it. Mistakes, deductions, they can cost you. For us, I felt like we had a fantastic performance, and the level of difficulty in our performance was high.”
One huge concern: Desert Hills also put on a top-notch performance. After the Trojans performed, “most of us watched Desert Hills. We noticed a few errors but knew it would be close. They had a great routine,” observed Montgomery.
About two hours after their performance, Morgan and the other teams were invited to gather in the middle of the gym for the awards ceremony. Dotson shared that once they were seated, the team “held hands in a show of unity. We all felt like we gave it our best, we’ve had a great year, and we’ll be happy no matter what happens.”
When Snow Canyon was awarded third place, the girls’ grips tightened and they put their heads down to await the second-place announcement. At the moment Desert Hills was honored with the runner-up award, there was a visible sigh of relief and palpable excitement among team members and fans that this might be our year.
“Then they announced that we won, and we all jumped up and started hugging and crying. Saydra Galloway accidentally punched me in the nose, but I didn’t care that I was bleeding. We just won state!” laughed Green.
“I was so excited, so pumped. I remember grabbing Rebecca Russell as hard as I could and screaming,” recalled Nelson.
“We just knew after second place was announced that this was our year. I felt relief. We had worked so hard, practiced all the time. When they said ‘Morgan’, I remember tears and happiness when we jumped up and hugged each other,” said Alyssa Nelson.
What were the keys to this year’s success? After all, none of the freshmen or sophomores were around when the team last won state. Two of the seniors are new to the team. Some of the juniors were around, but not all of them performed that year. And the coaching staff has changed twice since the Trojans brought home a championship trophy.
The team believes that success starts with team unity. “The girls were determined to do well this year,” explained Kelsey. “We had a couple new seniors and a new group of freshmen, and the team helped them to feel integrated right away. Our concept is that we are one team, not four teams based on grade levels.”
Added Montgomery, “This team is so welcoming. The girls are easy to get along with and treated each other as family. We all had a very special bond and a single focus.”
In addition to excellent team chemistry, the group found unity and strength by helping others in need. “Cheer was very important to them, but so was helping the less fortunate. As a team, they distributed food to the homeless, packaged food at a warehouse that would feed the homeless, and helped police officers wrap gifts for families in need,” noted Kelsey.
Kelsey’s style also resonated with the girls. Jarrett explained, “She helps us feel confident in our abilities, pushes us to improve and reach higher, makes sure we stay focused on being the best and appreciates our hard work.”
“She was always there for us,” said Dotson.
“She means business, but is understanding and approachable,” emphasized Alyssa Nelson.
“She trusts that we’ll do what we say we’ll do and what she asks us to do; she just commands respect,” echoed Yorgason.
Kelsey was quick to credit others for much of the team’s success. “Ben Nagai put together the best choreographed routine I saw this year. He designed the stunt, tumbling and cheer portion of the routine.” Nagai, who cheers for Weber State and is on the Jazz stunt team, attended almost all of the team’s practices.
“Ben is freaking awesome!” exclaimed Greene. “He helped us get so much better and even gave us one-on-one help when we needed it. We couldn’t have done it without him”
In addition, Mikarie Sargent choreographed an energetic, crowd-favorite dance. Bailey Kelsey, Weber State cheerleader and Jazz stunt team member, offered assistance at practices; MHS teacher Shasta Breshears helped with camp; and legendary coach Tammy Bullock, whose Trojan cheer team won the 2015 state championship (and four state championships in eight years), was the manager.
Those outside the cheer sphere would be surprised to learn of the team’s training regimen. As cheer has evolved into a competitive sport, a serious commitment is needed to perform at the highest level. Teams must know how to effectively combine dancing, tumbling, cheering and stunting into their routines. Practices start in the summer and last until the middle of February. Summer includes conditioning, long practices (including two-a-days) and a summer camp. During the school year, practices take place before and after school (depending on the trimester) and occasionally at night to prepare for competitions. And the entire time, cheerleaders support the other teams at Morgan, cheering up to four times a week during the busiest months.
Despite all of this, Kelsey preaches “academics first.” Many of the cheerleaders are near the top of their class in grades and two were named to the Academic All-State team this year.
Kelsey remarked, “Cheer teaches so many life skills. These girls learn to trust and depend on team members, the value of hard work and dedication, time management and organizational skills, how to be high achievers, how to be giving and kind and so much more.”
The team’s last competition will take place in the weekend of Feb. 10, 2017, at a national event held in Florida.
What a year for the cheer team—undefeated in competition! 2017 UCA Regional Division Champs, 2017 North Region Champs, 2017 State Champs!!!
Tryouts for the 2017-2018 cheer team will take place March 14, 2017, at MHS. For more information, contact Coach Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the 2017 State Champion Cheer Team are as follows:
Seniors-Brinley Dotson, Hailey Green, Kate Jarrett, Elly Montgomery, Alyssa Nelson, Kylee Nelson, Gwen Yorgason.
Juniors- MaKinley Beardall, Kenadi Bigelow, Natalie Crowther, Ellie Johnson, Emma Johnson, Kiah Jones, Abby Larsen.
Sophomores- Laci Cameron, Saydra Galloway, Kenidee Kelsey, Emma Mangum, Bree Nelson, Preslee Norman, Maddie Porter, Rebecca Russell, Sydnee Wirth.
Freshmen-Millie Breshears, Isabelle Cook, Lindsey Fry, Brinley Lance, Devyn Larsen, Madi Larsen, Justine Wilson.
Head Coach: Sue Ann Kelsey
Assistant Coaches: Ben Nagai, Mikarie Sargent, Bailey Kelsey