Chambers Academy sees its cheer program put together a program-best performance

Published 10:45 am Saturday, June 22, 2024

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Chambers Academy’s athletics program has seen a lot of growth throughout the years, especially on the side of women’s sports. That all culminated on Thursday at the AISA Universal Cheerleaders Association camp as the Rebels put together a program-best performance. 

Chambers Academy had struggled to find much success at the UCA camp in the past. The camp used to be divided between the schools in the East and the West, but it was combined several years ago and the competition became that much tougher. 

This year, the Rebels placed as the runner-up in the state for the large varsity group, something they had never done since the camp combined. The Rebels also placed first in the camp dance competition, second place in the cheer competition and received all superior ribbons. 

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Chambers Academy also had Harrisyn Reames, Makinlea Foster and Lindsey Datin named to the AISA All-Star squad. Foster, Reames, Haley Yarbrough and Sarah McClellan were named UCA All-Americans. 

“They really accepted the challenge,” Chambers Academy coach Laurie Phillips said. “I went to watch them two years ago, I started the week after camp. For the camp dance, they got ninth place. I was like, ‘They can do better than that.’ There’s no way, with the girls they had, that they couldn’t do better than that. Last year, they moved up to fourth place… This year, they were determined that they would be better than that and obviously, we got first place in camp dance. They hit that goal.” 

“They did fall short of their other goal, which was to be the AISA state winner for the large varsity,” Phillips added. “I still think that was a huge thing because they’ve never even been a runner-up since they combined.” 

Thursday marked a turnaround for Chambers Academy’s cheer program. Phillips is heading into her third season as the cheer coach after spending 26 years at Valley and she has been stunned by the growth in the program. 

“It’s grown literally in numbers and in abilities,” Phillips said. “When I got there the first year, there were nine cheerleaders that were selected. Last year we had 13, and this year we have 18. You would think that 18 would be like a headache and everybody must’ve just made it. It was everybody making it, but it was everybody deserving to make it.”
The Rebels’ cheer program has grown in numbers and ability, but the biggest growth has been with the mentality of the girls. 

In the past, the Rebels always had the talent, but they never had the belief. Phillips and the rest of the leaders in the program have worked to instill that belief each season. 

“I think it was more of a mentality thing more than anything,” Phillips said. “I just wanted them to know that I believed that they could do it so they did too. They didn’t have the confidence and somebody to drive them and show them that they could do more than what they were doing.” 

The team is made up of eight seniors: Tyane Anthony, Brittney Datin, Lindsay Datin, Makinlea Foster, Baeda McClellan, Sarah McClellan, Harrisyn Reames and Haley Yarbrough. The group leads the team together because there is currently no assigned captain. 

It is rare for a cheer squad to operate without a captain, but Phillips felt like there were too many solid leaders on the team to just choose one at this point. 

“In all my years of doing cheer, I have never not had a captain,” Phillips said. “I’ve got a core group of about five girls that have really stepped up. They’re going to work together right now.” 

“They’re all good leaders, but I would say there’s four of them that have really stepped up. I have a junior or two that I can sprinkle in that have also stepped up, and I can see are ready for leadership next year,” Phillips added. 

The UCA camp has a tight deadline for all schools. Tryouts take place in March and most of the cheerleaders at Chambers Academy play multiple sports. This gives the Rebels a short window of time to get the girls prepared for the competition. 

“The first week in March, we try out,” Phillips said. “We literally finished basketball, one week later we have tryouts, and we’re rolling again. We have several girls who are multi-sports athletes… I have very few that do just cheer. We can’t really fully start in March, but about the end of April and the beginning of May, we start trying to hit it pretty hard. You have to get ready.” 

Phillips arrived at Chambers Academy as an outsider, but she had someone to help with the onboarding process. Katie McElvy serves as the JV coach and is a Chambers alum. McElvy helped Phillips get used to the school, and she also helped her know which traditions to keep intact along the way. 

McElvy has grown the JV program during her time there, and it has helped develop the varsity program along the way. The JV squad competed at the UCA camp as well and received all superior ribbons and placed fourth in the sideline competition. Samantha Lovelace and Emmalee Jackson were also named to the UCA All-American team. 

“Katie is amazing,” Phillips said. “Katie is a CA alum. She’s been there through it all, she cheered. I could not have done anything without her. For the first year, she kind of guided me through what the CA way is… She has just been my right-hand man, and she has helped me personally as a coach.” 

The excellent performance at the UCA camp and the growth of the program as a whole are just the beginning. Phillips believes that the program still has a lot left to offer and achieve along the way. 

“I think the sky is the limit because they can do it,” Phillips said. “They have the numbers there, the school is growing, we have a lot more girls coming into the program and just girls in general. Last year, we also started a dance team. People thought they were trying to take the place of the cheerleaders. I don’t look at it as that. We look at that being more female athletes we have out there… It just helps grow our female athletic program and what we’re doing.”