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Life Lessons of Cheerleading
Everest Collegiate High School Coach Nancy Burgess and her squad exemplify how faith and hard work bring success

Everest Collegiate High School cheerleaders
Everest Collegiate High School cheerleaders win the 2013 Catholic League Championship

Clarkston, Michigan -- Mikayla Thibodeau learned some important life lessons during her high school years. 

One of the members of the first graduating class from the now five-year-old Everest Collegiate High School, in Clarkston, Michigan, the freshman at Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Michigan said her time at Everest taught her how to work hard when things get tough.  Though Mikayla participated in many activities while at her former school, one stands out strongly in her mind -- cheerleading.  She credits being among the founding members of the Everest Collegiate competitive cheerleading squad as one of the most important learning experiences of her life so far. 

“For the first time, I was able to connect spiritually with a sport,” she said remembering how her coach, Nancy Burgess, reinforced their Catholic faith in almost every aspect – from practice, to learning new skills, to competitions. 

“Mrs. Burgess taught
Nancy Burgess and her 2012 seniors
Coach Nancy Burgess (center) poses with Mikayla Thibodeau (second from left) and the other 2012 seniors. Hannah Terbrack is second from the right.
us to offer up everything we do on the floor and off of it,” she said.
“Remembering that helps me when life is difficult or I am exhausted.  I just offer it to God.” 

“Mikayla was one of the girls who really took to heart how prayerful we were, with all the odds against us and how much God answered our prayers,” said Nancy, who has been the cheerleading coach at Everest Academy, and now at Everest Collegiate High School, for eight years. 

A Progression of Success 

Before the high school opened in 2008, Nancy coached the middle school 5th/6th and 7th/8th grade squads.  The younger squad won the Christian Youth Organization (CYO) league championship the same year the new high school opened, and both of the middle school squads won the title in the 2010-2011 school year. 

With the support of Athletic Director Ann Lowney, and with the help of some enthusiastic students like Hannah Terbrack, the only cheerleader in the high school at that time, Nancy decided to start a high school cheerleading squad at Everest Collegiate for the 2009-2010 school year.  Hannah was a cheerleader for Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School in Waterford, Michigan, which has a sports co-op program with Everest Collegiate for teams in which both schools need more students to participate. 

Both Nancy and Hannah were very excited to start a program exclusively at Everest and began recruiting girls, despite that fact that few, if any, of the 16 students in the Everest Collegiate Girls’ High School at that time had any cheerleading experience. 

“We started a sideline squad in the fall of 2009 with 12 girls,” said Nancy, referring to the fact that the girls would only cheer during the boys’ high school basketball games. 

In 2011, however, the girls decided to take the squad to the next level and begin competitive cheerleading through
District Trophy
The Everest squad won their 2013 district title
MHSAA.  “We competed in the Catholic League the following year, and in 2011 we grew to 15 girls and became an MHSAA competitive squad.”

“This year we only have 8 girls, but we’ve also had the most success,” Nancy added. 

From their humble beginnings, Everest Collegiate’s cheerleading program has developed and improved to the point that the squad now has bragging rights beyond every sport in the school.  In addition to winning their district title, the squad has become the first exclusively Everest Collegiate team to win a Catholic High School League championship, a coveted title by all Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

And that is saying quite a bit.  Overall, Everest Collegiate’s sports program has a lot to brag about – the girls’ basketball team has won their league championship for three years in a row, and this year they won their first district title.  The boys’ basketball team won their league title for the second year in a row, and also won their second consecutive district title this year.  Both coaches for the boys´ and girls´ teams were named Coach of the Year for their divisions -- the girls coach, Erin Van Wagoner, won that honor three years in a row, and the boy’s coach, Ann Lowney, won two years in a row, as well as being named Athletic Director of the Year for their division.  These honors do not even mention the success of the many sports through the school’s cooperative programs with
Heel Touch
Mikayla said she struggled with heel touches, and had to work hard to achieve the skill
Our Lady of the Lakes and Shrine High School, whose teams have won awards at the local, regional and even state level.

It’s All in the Attitude 

Though Nancy hasn’t received any awards as coach so far, her squad members definitely believe she is a major part of their success. 

“I didn’t think I had what it took to be a cheerleader,” said Mikayla, remembering when Nancy asked her if she would join the squad.  “I wasn’t any of the things I thought a cheerleader should be.”  She said some of the other girls who joined the squad quickly learned to do splits and heel touches – skills with which she struggled. 

“I’ve always tried to give the girls the right perspective,” said Nancy.  “If they weren’t gifted in a particular way, they still have healthy bodies.  And they need to focus on what they do have.” 

“I definitely had to work hard at it,” said Mikayla. “I definitely had to believe in myself.” 

Developing a confident attitude is something she learned from Nancy, whose own confidence got her a spot as a college cheerleader with only one year experience from high school (she quit cheerleading to run track and field.) 

While attending Michigan State University, Nancy’s intramural track coach, who was also the director of the United States Cheerleading Association, liked her attitude. 

“She said to me, ‘You are a cheerleader, aren’t you?’” Nancy explained. “I said ‘No, I am a runner.’  But she was convinced I was a cheerleader and offered me a job for $300 to be a USCA cheerleading representative for their local summer camp.  So that day I became a cheerleader.” 

Nancy would attend more events as a USCA representative, and while doing so, she met the cheerleading coach for Hawaii Pacific University.  With the help of some of the other HPU cheerleaders who taught her how to do cheerleading stunts, Nancy was offered a scholarship to cheer at that school. 

Perhaps her own history is the reason she always tells her squad members that “anything is possible with prayer and hard work.” 

“I would rather coach girls with little experience who have a great attitude, than girls with a lot of talent but who are not willing to work together,” she said. “Our Everest squad has succeeded because the girls have a genuine love for one another and a real willingness to help each other out so that the whole squad succeeds.” 

When asked what advice she would give to a new coach trying to start a cheerleading program, Nancy said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you really need it.  I had a great mentor coach that helped explain some of the more technical aspects of the sport to me, and I called on her often.”

Christ is the Center 

Nancy proudly states their success is due most importantly to that fact that “we put Christ at the center of everything we do.” She stressed that human aspects are secondary to asking “God to bless your work and help you succeed.” 

She explained that her squad adopted the Blessed Virgin Mary as their “Captain” early on. “We pray to our guardian angels.  And, before every round in every competition, we individually say a prayer for a soul in purgatory who needs just one more prayer to get into Heaven.  So before we even step on the floor, we help get seven to eight souls into Heaven each round!  For each competition, we have 24 new saints in Heaven praying for us!” 

She added, “And, no matter what, if we win or if we lose, we always give thanks.”

Everest´s competitive cheerleading squad has a great deal for which to be thankful.



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