DECATUR — The Millikin University cheerleaders are about to jump into a competition new to the school and squad.
The group of 20 cheerleaders will be representing the college for the first time at National Cheerleading Association’s Cheer Nationals April 6-10 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
An opportunity to compete is available only through an invitation, according to Sarah Rapp, cheer coach. “This is our third year getting a bid,” she said. “But this is our first year being able to go because of COVID.”
The national competition was canceled in 2020. The group admits they weren’t prepared the following year. “This is the first time we’ve really been able to go,” Rapp said. “And this is the perfect group that I could take.”
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The Millikin team participating includes eight seniors. The competition is college level, but broken up into divisions. Millikin is a Coed Division Three team.
“We are the team that if you saw us in public, you wouldn’t think we were a cheerleading team,” Rapp said. “A lot of them don’t have a strong cheerleading background.”
Members of the squad originated in other sports, such as basketball, football and track. “Everyone has that natural sports background that you can integrate into throwing people up into the air,” Rapp said. “They are so much more willing to work hard to get it.”
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Alexis Reed was recruited because of her wrestling skills. “They needed somebody that was strong,” she said. “Here I am four years later.”
Emily Mitchell was on her cheerleading squad in high school. “But nothing compared to how big and exciting this is,” she said.
Conor Reynolds is a backspot on the Millikin squad. “I’m a little bit taller, so I reach up a little bit higher,” he said. “I grab calves and ankles, where they (the base) grab the bottom of the feet. So I have a little bit more control and stability.”
Reynolds played baseball and football in high school. “It’s still exciting and rewarding to be able to do all this stuff,” he said. “We’ve come so far from even when we started this summer.”
The competition has several criteria in order to earn points and win. Moves the cheerleaders will make include coed stunts, baskets, dances, running-tumbling, various jumps and a final pyramid. “It’s just a lot of different, intricate details put together,” Rapp said. “It’s just one routine. We have two minutes and 15 seconds to cram everything in there.”
Millikin has had a cheerleading squad for decades. “But there hasn’t been that dedication from both the athlete level and the coaching level,” Rapp said. “There’s a lot of time and effort.”
The cheerleaders had to raise the funds for travel expenses as well as for the competition fees, hotel and food. They hosted fundraisers and provided the remaining funds themselves.
“We got about half of it raised, then the rest of it will just come out of our pockets,” Rapp said. “It’s about $28,000 for us all to go.”
As Millikin seniors, Mitchell and Reed were two of the original cheerleaders when Rapp began coaching at Millikin four years ago.
“This program could not run without her,” Mitchell said. “We’re a bunch of misfit people put together, but it makes our team work.”
“It was just a matter of drawing people back in and rebuilding the program into something Millikin could be proud of,” Reed said.
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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR