Cheer team's victories go beyond the competition

Champion cheer squad poses with their trophy in Santa Barbara

By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

Just for a moment, forget about winning the top award in every category and focus on the outcome that does not appear in the official results. After days of driving the Grand Canyon University Cheer team, including consecutive mornings of listening to their daily devotionals, witnessing their approach to each other, and seeing their evident love amid catching each other with sure hands and an authentic smile, the bus driver was profoundly affected.

GCU Cheer coach Emily Stephens, who began the program 11 years ago, was brought to tears when Dean, the bus driver, took her aside and told her that he was thinking about returning to church, and the deciding factor was his observations of her 49-member cheer team, plus Thunder and Thunder’s friends.

“It was the most exciting thing for us,’’ she said upon returning from the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) camp at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

“He said he felt a spirit coming up from the front of the bus. The fact that the group could show him that love and that spirit and represent Christ is remarkable. For him to feel that and make that decision after being with our group, it didn’t matter to me what we did.  We could have taken last place. To me, that was the success, that was what we were there to do.’’

Along with influencing the bus driver in a Christ-like way, the GCU cheer team took top honors in Large Co-Ed and Small Co-Ed.

Throughout the week, the squads learned new moves, including stunting, basket tosses and pyramids. On the final day, in the “Game Day’’ sideline situation, they were required to show knowledge of offense, defense and timeouts, including sign use.

Split squads both shine

"Grand" consisted of eight men and 20 women, and "Canyon" was comprised of four men and 17 women. Canyon won the leadership award, which is voted on by each team (teams cannot vote for themselves) and limited to one vote per team. The leadership award was voted on by asking the following question: “If you weren’t on your team, what team would you like to be on?’’

Also, staff members awarded the Collegiate Award to GCU for best team.

“It is exciting; we’ve won the Leadership and Collegiate award the last few years,’’ Stephens said. “That’s a really big goal of ours, to continue to get that.’’

“Our student-athletes came together so well.  This team has so much love for each other. In my 11 years of coaching, this is probably one of the most loving teams. We have 49 members who love each other so much. The love is going everywhere. They can’t help but be successful because they are doing it because they love each other so much.

Thunder won the Camp Champ title

“One thing we really focus on is doing your best to make each other better.  If you do that, not for yourself but because you want the person you are working with, stunting with, to be able to do better, it works out. They definitely did that.’’

The cheer team executed in a sure-handed, precise way under pressure and nerves despite limited training prior to the camp.

The 33 returning members moved back to campus on July 27 and underwent a four-day leadership retreat, including training, preparing a mission statement and setting goals and expectations for each other, the veteran members of the squad.

“We went to church, we were really coming together,’’ Stephens said.

The 16 rookies (freshmen and transfers) moved in Aug. 1 with the help of the veterans. After five sessions of two-a-day practices, they boarded the bus for Santa Barbara.

“They’ve never stunted together; that’s the biggest thing for us, getting everyone on the same techniques,’’ said Stephens, noting the importance of putting together proper body types and various heighted student-athletes for various roles, including bases, back spots and flyers.

The finish hold for the Game Day routine for Large CoEd featured eight guys throwing eight girls and three all-girl stunt groups.

Thunder and his training friends also took part and performed superbly, winning Camp Champ for the mascot category for the sixth consecutive year.

Setting a standard for spirit entity collaboration

GCU also showed leadership at the camp as camp directors used a Lopes video of collaboration among spirit entities (Cheer, Dance, Thunder, Thundering Heard Pep Band and Havocs) as an example of how to maximize Game Day routines.

“That is the secret sauce to how we are so successful with our student section,‘’ said Stephens, who spoke at a camp coaches’ meeting about combining spirit entities.

To emphasis collaboration, camp organizers asked each university to prepare a routine with multiple spirit squad types. Throughout the camp, cheer and dance squads were on different schedules and rarely saw each other, but for that aspect they came together, similar to GCU's Purple Pre-Game Party or Lope-A-Palooza, which is scheduled for Aug. 23.

“The dance squad was in front dancing, we had a routine in the back, and we were building stunts and waving flags,’’ Stephens said. “There was an exciting pressure. People were wondering, ‘OK, how is Grand Canyon going to do this?’ ''

Afterward, the camp director informed Stephens and dance coach Jacque Genung-Koch that their collaboration was exactly what she envisioned. 

“Some school teams are hesitant to do it, they operate in their own ways and it takes more time to work together, so showing that collaboration was definitely one of our proudest moments,’’ Stephens said.

As associate head coach Keegan Hubbard noted: “The entire team was successful, not only in the skills they honed, but in the example they set to those around them.’’

With the impact on Dean, the bus driver, in mind, Stephens summarized: “Our mission No. 1 is to represent Christ, Grand Canyon University, and our team, without a doubt we do that very well.’’

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Cheer, Dance, spirit stands out at national event


Cheer team roster:

First Name Last Name Year on Team
Courtney Caithamer 4th
Casey Traut 4th
Megan Veach 4th
Emily Young 4th
Matthew Mayo 3rd
Madeline Alexander 3rd
Kaitlin Aragon 3rd
Marley Crawford 3rd
Emily Fox 3rd
Megan Gadbaw 3rd
Grayson Higgins 3rd
Lindsey Relerford 3rd
Joseph Dwyer 2nd
Drew Griggs 2nd
Tim Warner 2nd
Brandon Dawa 2nd
Heather Hamilton 2nd
Abigail Banks 2nd
Alycia Bukartek 2nd
Jacob Butz 2nd
Austin Diering 2nd
James Geiselhofer 2nd
Megan Gill 2nd
Elizabeth Hansen 2nd
Rebecca Heller 2nd
Madison Johnson 2nd
Kevin Luque 2nd
Carli Nielson 2nd
Janessa Petty 2nd
Rylee Rackers 2nd
Alexia Reyes 2nd
Kendall Roberts 2nd
Brittani Rocha 2nd
Ethan Collins 1st
Johnny DeLuccio 1st
Samual Waters 1st
Karis Blasing 1st
Gary Benware 1st
Taylynn Cross 1st
Amaya Flemings 1st
Kaelyn Garman 1st
MaKenzie Hackenberg 1st
Sarah Hary 1st
Sydney Kincaid 1st
McKenzie Kratchman 1st
Shea McBride 1st
Whitney McFadden 1st
Madison Monahan 1st
Dylan Rinehart 1st
Rocky Rodriguez 1st
Ethan Skrabak 1st
Isabelle Trainor 1st
Caleb Dunn 1st
Cailey Christensen 4th
Abbie Henderson 4th


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