In the last four years, the Stone Bridge cheerleading team had placed fourth, second, third and fifth at the state championship. Last weekend, they completed the set: the Stone Bridge girls are finally officially the finest high school cheerleading squad in the state.
Not only did the Stone Bridge girls win the AA division for the state championship, they beat the winners of the A and AAA divisions by a significant margin, if the three were stacked against each other: Stone Bridge scored a 268 in the final round to Windsor's 243.5 in group A and North Stafford's 244.5 in group AAA.
It bodes well for Stone Bridge's young team, which loses only three seniors this year. Since division placing is based on school size — and Stone Bridge is growing — the team will compete in AAA next year.
IT'S THE END of a four-year journey for the team's three seniors, Kim Teate, Jessica Sunkin and Kim Skinner. Two years earlier, they were a heartbeat away from winning the state championship when a teammate fell during a stunt. Now, they're going out on top.
"It couldn't have gone any better for us," Teate said.
The situation almost repeated itself at last weekend's championship, which was held at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In the preliminary round, a teammate fell during a stunt, just as in two years ago. But even with that slip, the Stone Bridge girls still won the preliminary round and went on to win the finals.
The team outdid its opponents because it's an extremely athletic group, according to coach Joe Dolansky.
"This group has all round-off back handsprings," Dolansky said.
Translation: lots of impressive flipping going on during the routine. The girls are so athletically capable that it was less the technical details and more the intangible "selling" of the routine that challenged them. But at the regional competition several weeks ago, it all fell into place, according to Sunkin. For the first time, a judge marked "high energy" on the team's comment sheet.
"Everything just connected," she said. "I just knew it was perfect."
The team, which has 21 members, is a close-knit group that socializes off the mat. They've also created a series of rituals to help prepare the team to walk under the lights and nail the routine: they pray, they all walk on one side of a double door and one girl kisses all the others.
"Or else it just doesn't work," Teate said.
WITH ABOUT 12 hours of practice each week, plus games on Saturday nights, the cheerleaders are busy stirring school spirit. But that's not all they do. Most belong to other cheering squads, many compete in other school sports and all of them have a grade point average above 3.5.
"We don't fit into the stereotype of dumb cheerleaders," Teate said.
For the seniors who are moving on, winning the state championship is the perfect culmination of years of hard work. Being a cheerleader is more than just an after-school activity for these girls; it's helped shape who they are.
"Cheering really changed my high school experience," Sunkin said. "I feel so much more connected to the school. As a person, I've become more outgoing."
"You see the people looking up to you because you're a cheerleader," Teate said. "You have to set a higher standard for yourself."
Sunkin hopes to attend the University of Virginia next year, while Teate has applied to Virginia Tech.