Callaway competitive cheer qualifies for state in first year back as a team

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

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It has been a Cinderella season for the Callaway cheerleading team. The Cavaliers have not been used to being invited to the ball as the school has not had a competitive team in five years, but that changed this season. The program has been revived by coach Serenity Graham and assistant coach Ansley Callan and earned a trip to compete at the 2A state meet this Friday.

“I started crying,” Graham said. “I was looking at the list of who qualified, saw our name near the middle of the list and didn’t even read anymore. I took off running to let the team know.”

It has been a meteoric rise for the Cavaliers this season. When the revitalized team formed for the first practice this summer, it was anything but a triumph.

In the first hour, Mary Kate Baswell lost a tooth and Ja’Miya McCoy threw up.

“During the first hour our athletic trainer was over here and not with football and was like ‘what in the world is going on,’” Graham said as she shared a laugh with her seniors.

The team continued to take baby steps on the road to elite performances. It took some time to knock off some of the rust as many of these girls had not competed in years.

Once they found their footing, the team became even closer, and for some it’s bittersweet that this will be the only year they spend together cheering.

“It’s exciting, but also sad because this is our first and our last year,” said McCoy, a senior on the team. “It’s exciting to get to experience this one last time.”

The chemistry between the team was not instant. It took a little while to brew, but now the squad feels like a family.

“I think everybody like truly loves it and wants to be here and we encourage each other a lot and get everyone excited,” Cami Creed said.

The no. 1 goal this season was always to qualify for state. Graham kept telling the girls it was possible even if they did not always believe it themselves.

“At the beginning, I didn’t think we had what it took to get to state,” Baswell said.

Creed echoed that sentiment but added that the team never let that doubt influence how hard they worked to get better.

The three seniors Baswell, Creed and McCoy are the team’s three captains. Even they were unsure of a return to cheerleading when the program was starting back up earlier this year. 

“I didn’t think I would ever be where I am now,” Creed said. “I didn’t think anyone could convince me that I would be doing it again until I met coach Serenity.”

Competitive cheerleading means the world to Creed: “It lets us express ourselves in two minutes and thirty seconds.”

She is not the only one who has fallen back in love with cheerleading after an extended absence from it. 

The routine mostly stays the same during the season, but the girls and coaches do add new wrinkles where they can.

“The blueprint stays the same, but we might change a few details,” McCoy said. 

One of the aspects that makes Callaway cheerleading so unique is the fact that the competitive cheer team is also the spirit cheer team, meaning they have to do double the work. Every single member of the team has to prepare for competitions and football Friday nights.

Fortunately, the cheerleading team has an impressive support system led by the school’s athletic department and a supportive crop of parents. 

“You couldn’t ask for a better group of parents,” Graham said. “They knew that last week and this week would be very big for us, so the parents were in here yesterday painting our banner for the football game.”

Regardless of where the 2023 Callaway cheerleading team finishes at state on Friday, the team has already made an indelible impact on the school and program. 

“Everybody wants to win state, but we want to have a legendary team,” Callan said. “We want a team that people talk about for years to come and everybody knows your name.”

The 2023 team consists of Aniah Rutledge, Chloe White, Mallori Bolton, Jaiden Bartlett, Ameya Willis, Kelsey Holloway, Makinley Hester, Mary Kate Baswell, Katiya Cameron, Ja’Miya McCoy, Maddie Morgan, Caelyn Dukes, Cami Creed, Hailee Brawner and Cadence Seymour.