|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
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.”
|Coach Nancy Burgess (center) poses with Mikayla Thibodeau (second from left) and the other 2012 seniors. Hannah Terbrack is second from the right. |
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.
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
the MHSAA. “We competed in
the Catholic League the following year, and in 2011 we
grew to 15 girls and became an MHSAA competitive squad.”
|The Everest squad won their 2013 district title|
“This year we only have 8 girls, but we’ve
also had the most success,” Nancy added.
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.
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
Our Lady of the Lakes and Shrine High School, whose
teams have won awards at the local, regional and even
|Mikayla said she struggled with heel touches, and had to work hard to achieve the skill|
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.”
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.”
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.