(Posted March 18, 2015)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
For West Jefferson High School’s competition cheerleading team, nine months of training came down to a two-and-a-half minute routine.
“We were fortunate to have two-and-a-half minutes that were perfect,” said Melissa Jester, who with Jenny Hockenbery, coached the team to its third state championship in four years.
The OASSA State Competition took place March 1 at St. John’s Arena on The Ohio State University campus. West Jefferson competed against five other schools in the Div. IV mount category. Their routine included a crowd-led cheer, team jumps, team tumbling, baskets, stunts, a pyramid and dance.
Jester credits the team’s success in large part to a new emphasis on strength and endurance training that started during summer conditioning. Over nine weeks starting in June, the girls met three times a week at 6 a.m. to run then hit the weight room to lift. In August, the entire team, as well as a few parents, ran the Running of the Ox 5K in West Jefferson.
“In the past several years, we have had some knee injuries, a couple of shoulders, some ankles, as well as a few concussions. We talked in the off-season about how important it was to build strong bodies to endure the jumping, tumbling and stunting that is part of our sport. Endurance is huge, too,” Jester said.
“There are no timeouts or water breaks. No half-time adjustments. You get two-and-a-half minutes to put everything out there. One mistake can be costly. It’s fast paced and high energy. The commitment to the conditioning and strength training program really helped us this year.”
Equally important, she said, were team-building activities that took the form of community service. In addition to running the 5K race, which benefited the West Jefferson Youth Athletic Association, the team helped to serve sandwiches at the village’s Ox Roast festival over Labor Day weekend, they volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser in November, and they volunteered at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank in February.
“What they did off the mat was just as impressive,” Jester said.
The competition cheerleading season starts with choreography camp in September, followed by months of polishing the routine before competitions start in January. West Jefferson competed at the OAC state championships, the Akron Children’s Cheer Classic and the central Ohio regional qualifier in Dublin before competing at state.
“It’s a lot of hard work, dedication, time and resources,” Jester said. “In addition to the commitment these girls make to cheerleading, many are also scholar athletes and excelling in the classroom. We have cheerleaders who are class officers, National Honor Society and student council members, mock trial participants and 4-H members. Many of them work part-time jobs as well. I am not sure how they fit it all in. I know the level of commitment I require of my cheerleaders, and I am impressed that they juggle all that they do inside and outside of the classroom and the athletic fields.”
Seniors Alyssa Jacobs, Megan Jester and Shoshone Sestito led this year’s team. They are members of the first class to win three state titles while in high school.
Jester and Hockenbery said they are thankful for the support the team receives from the cheerleaders’ parents, the West Jefferson Boosters, school administration and school board. Additionally, community members donate team meals and support the team in various other ways.