- February 15, 2019
The Foundation Academy varsity cheer squad is entering its 2022-23 season as the defending state champions for the first time in the school history.
“The team is well aware of the pressure for this year, but they are more focused on just being the best they can be and whatever happens, will happen,” co-head cheer coach Rachel Carey said. “They have a lot of faith in each other, they have a great support system in their coaches, the school and also Hope Church who kind of leads us in ministry during competition and guides the girls.”
Every season, right after tryouts, the team’s coaches — Carey, co-head cheer coach Kristin Johnson and skills coach Tim Arvanetes — sit down and come up with the word and bible verse that will lead the squad through the new season.
This year’s word is “grit” and verse is Galatians 6:10 — “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
“We take it from the beginning of the season and continue to make sure that, even in the tough times, we are good to each other, that we encourage each other, that we speak the truth of God,” Johnson said.
Senior and team captain Haven Brookins, 17, has been a part of the varsity cheer squad at Foundation for three years and is looking forward for her final season as a Lion.
“Last season, it was great winning state champs and everything,” she said. “Everyone wants to keep that momentum going into this year. Everyone is really pumped. But our coach always says it’s one thing to get a championship title, and it’s another thing to hold it for the next two years, so everyone is on edge about that. … I think (this season) will be really good. The way our team has started off this year is (already) much better than to how we started last year.”
The girls have only one month off during the year, despite their season being in the winter time. They have to build their strength, polish their skills and practice their stunts.
“(We started) at the beginning of the summer, and we are now able to land those skills,” Johnson said. “The girls have the technical training to help them achieve higher skills (this year) as we practiced a little more over the summer … and we are running our routines a little more.” Because the team only graduated three seniors last year, the core of the squad this year remains the same — with a few welcome additions.
“These athletes have been a blessing too, because the older girls have been with the program for quite a while,” Johnson said. “ So bringing in new blood and having those girls never (competing) before and then the girls from last season being hungry for (the championship), I think they really challenge each other and they teach each other and really have such a great bond.”
The Lions named Brookins as captain, and Jada Wilson and Ellie Perfetto as co-captains. Their job: Keep the team going and hold their heads high when morale is low.
“I just gather everyone together for a little pep talk and remind them of what we need to do,” Brookins said. “Sometimes, I struggle too, but you really have to keep going and get out of your head.”
As with any returning champions, the Lions have high expectations for the new season.
“I expect to win regionals and states again,” Brookins said. “I’m really hoping for that, and I’m also hoping for this year to win first at nationals. Last year we got third. But, I think this year, we really have the mentality to make it all the way.”
“Personally, I just pray for no injuries this season for the girls,” Johnson said. “I just pray they go out every time and fight their hardest, because, at the end of the day, it’s God’s will that we become champions again. I just want them to lead the season with an admiration of knowing that they worked hard to be great, learned new skills and to just to good — among themselves, the community and the sport that they love so much.”
HOLIDAY SPIRIT — THE LION WAY
In order to stay motivated and to keep the sport fun — and to bring some holiday spirit into the team atmosphere — the Lions adopted two families through the A Heart to Give organization based in Winter Garden.
“We are putting together a Christmas for them, because they would not be able to have Christmas if we didn’t,” Johnson said.
The girls have been divided into two teams. Each has been assigned a family and has been going out to choose Christmas items and basic necessities such as socks and underwear to give to the families Dec. 15.
“The only person in the family who knows that we are doing this is the (single) mom,” Johnson said. “The organization reached out to (both moms) and said that someone had adopted (their respective) family so they won’t have to struggle. We are going to make sure that (they and their) kids can have a nice Christmas.”
The Lions are also checking off items from the children’s Christmas wish lists so they are able to grant their wishes and make them true.
“We are going to hand-deliver the items to these families,” Johnson said. “To be able to see how excited the girls are to give back to the community as a team, it’s been very beautiful to watch.”