A championship title is so much more than a trophy. It is a culmination of months or years of discipline and teamwork.
Southeast Christian Church’s Special Olympics cheerleading team trained for months for their regional and state competitions in February, and when performance time came, their hard work paid off.
The team placed first in the regional competition and second in the state competition.
The results were cause for joy among cheerleaders, coaches, parents and fans.
“Although we always go into it knowing it’s not all about winning, I love seeing them be proud of themselves when they are successful,” head coach Jessica Sermersheim said. “I am so proud of them for the hard work and the positive attitudes they had throughout the whole season. They are a wonderful group of women, and I’ve loved seeing them grow this year.”
Assistant coach Marcus Gibson said the team’s performance at the regional competition was the best they have ever done.
“It was a proud parent moment,” he said. “The girls worked hard, and every part of our routine was on point. I’m continually impressed with their spirit and talent.”
Some cheerleaders were brand new to the team, while others have been cheering for years, but Sermersheim said all the women and coaches have become like brothers and sisters.
The team has had an impact in Sermersheim’s life for more than 20 years.
“I have in one way or another been a part of this team since I was in eighth grade; I am now 31,” Sermersheim said. “So, to say I have a special bond with this group is an understatement. We really are like a family.”
During competitions, parents, coaches and cheerleaders can send “cheer grams”—notes of encouragement that are read before a team’s performance. As people read cheer grams for the Southeast team, smiles and excitement abounded.
“You’ve worked so hard. We’re so proud of you girls,” one parent wrote.
“To the coaches: thank you for all of your hard work,” another parent contributed.
“You guys are my family. I love all of you,” a teammate shared.
“Even our competitors encouraged us,” Gibson said. “That was a really neat thing to see.”
When team member Andria Hurley sang the national anthem at the state competition, everyone cheered her on.
While the team didn’t win first at the state competition, Gibson said they are still rejoicing for all they have accomplished and all they’ve seen God do this season.
“I ran into one of our girls at the mall and asked her what she thought about state,” Gibson said. “She said, ‘We did our best, and I’m proud of our performance.’ That was really encouraging to me. I’m competitive, and I really believe in these girls. As much as you want to win, knowing you did your best and had fun speaks volumes of the kind of athlete you are.”
Gibson said the entire season was full of joy and Christ’s love.
“We have a great opportunity to be a light for Christ in the cheerleading community,” Gibson said. “We work hard, practice discipline and walk out our faith on the team.”
This season, the team had the opportunity to practice for a few months at GymTyme, a cheerleading facility in Louisville used by all-star cheerleading teams and the University of Louisville cheerleading team.
It was a highlight for the whole team.
“It was a really unique experience to be able to go to an elite gym and be welcomed with open arms,” Gibson said.
“I loved seeing them interact with other athletes while at the gym,” she said. “They represented our team, Southeast and Christ wonderfully.”
Sermersheim said she is grateful for the five other volunteer coaches and the parents, guardians and caregivers who help out the team in addition to their other responsibilities caring for an adult with special needs.
“We really couldn’t do this without them,” she said.
Gibson, 48, cheered at the University of Louisville for six years, both in undergraduate and graduate school. In his three years of coaching, he has seen what God can do through cheerleading.
“Special Olympics was never something I thought I would do,” he said. “When I was a college cheerleader, I wasn’t putting God first, but He’s been able to take something I love, people I love and Him who I love and use all three in a way I never imagined.”
Gibson said that when he first got involved with Special Olympics, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Now, he encourages others to jump in and serve.
“I just started serving because I felt like it was what God wanted me to do,” he said. “But when you serve, you have no idea just what God can do.”