Local dance team wins national championship

The dance team for the South Fork Panthers won the Division 8 National Championship from the American Youth Cheer National Cheer/Dance Championships.

Local dance team wins national championship
December 29
14:34 2021

The young ladies from the eight-and-under dance team of the South Fork Panthers were crowned national champions of the American Youth Cheer National Cheer/Dance Championships for Division 8 earlier this month in Kissimmee, Florida.

Head coach Helima McCaskill has been working with the team for seven years. She was elated to bring home a national championship, especially after all of the hard work the young ladies put in throughout the season.

“We actually started doing some little camps around March and April, just to try and get the girls out the house since we were dealing with COVID and they were being very consistent with coming to the camp, which we normally don’t see,” said McCaskill. “When I saw that consistency of the girls coming, I felt like we had a good chance.”

The 14 young ladies on the team ranged from five to eight years of age. The dance team also cheers for the Panthers’ football team during the season, while also practicing their dance routines during the week.

“Throughout the season, we would cheer each Saturday for the South Fork Panthers and during the week we would practice our dance,” she said. “The only time we actually did our dance before the championship was at our local competition we had here at West Forsyth and we placed first there as well.”

According to McCaskill, she actually has a choreographer, Wayne Jones, to help her and her assistant coach Mary Green with the routines for the girls.  

“He started off the season with us back in August and he would teach us some eight counts and he would leave it up to myself and my assistant and we would clean it up and make sure the girls would remember it,” she said. “We would make them do it over and over and over again and he would come back maybe two weeks later and teach them another part, so that was the progression of the routine.”

Dealing with such young ladies, McCaskill says it was sometimes difficult to keep the attention of her team, so they had to come up with ways to keep them engaged.  

“I think the closer it got to the competition, and understanding the importance of having to do it over and over again and having to look like a team, they became locked in,” she said. “The national championship is pretty tough competition and getting them to understand what it would take to win was the hardest part.

“After they did it over and over and over again and getting the memory in their mind and understanding the message behind the performance, they started to come together.”

Dealing with young kids, nerves are always a part of the conversation when it comes to athletic competition and the ladies of the Panthers’ dance team were no different.

“When we first got there, we had to do a routine review and that’s when the nerves kind of showed,” she said. “They have to do it in front of some judges to make sure everything we’re doing is legal.

“I think once they did it in front of them, I think they got out all the nerves, because when it was showtime, the nerves definitely didn’t show. We all were impressed. Once they got on that mat, it was like something clicked and they really performed.”

After being crowned champions, McCaskill says she was overjoyed for her young team.

“It was a very proud moment,” she said about how she felt after winning. “Again, with seven and eight year olds being able to understand everything we have been pounding in their head all season, and it just finally coming together. Our parents were awesome with fundraising, so it was a lot and it all came together.

“It was a really proud moment and a moment of relief,” she said. “I don’t think either one of us breathed the entire two minutes and thirty seconds of the routine.”

McCaskill says there was some really tough competition from the other teams that were there. The Panthers’ team was third to perform in the competition, so the teams that went before and after them had the coaches a little nervous.

The young ladies were actually a little shocked at winning the championship. Being so young, McCaskill says they really didn’t know exactly what they had just accomplished. After receiving all of the accolades that come with winning, it finally hit them, she said.  

McCaskill wanted to give a special thank you to the junior coaches, Coach Cydney, Coach Genevian and Coach K’Zharia, who were all former Panther cheerleaders, that came back to assist the young ladies with their routine.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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