The 2019 John Milledge Academy competition cheerleading squad may have been small in numbers, but that did not affect the Trojans when it came to bringing it out on the mat.
They proved it Saturday in Americus when they walked away with the program’s second consecutive GISA state championship and fifth in the last eight years. Opponents know who they have to beat because since 2012 JMA has finished every competition cheer season as either the state champion or runner-up. Last year’s stacked senior class made the Trojans’ 2018 title victory as close to a sure thing as it gets. This year’s championship was as up in the air as a flyer during a routine since the Trojans lost six cheerleaders from that talented 2018 squad. But good teams find a way even when they are down to just 10 athletes, and that’s what John Milledge’s “small, but mighty” Trojans did under head coach Doug Stephens.
“That was our motto this year — ‘small, but mighty,’” Stephens told The Union-Recorder. “We didn’t have the numbers, but every single girl on the team bought into the motto and they trusted me all year long. I told them that if they perform their best and leave everything out on the mat then at the end of the day winning might be a byproduct. We never talked about winning or losing, we only talk about doing our best. If you do your best, you put yourself in a position to win.”
Going from 14 cheerleaders down to 10 may not sound like a big drop, but every one of them counts when you’re trying to put your best foot forward on high school cheerleading’s biggest stage. Each fewer body makes a pyramid just a bit shorter or the support for a stunt a little less sure.
“For a team of 10 to win a state championship is a rarity,” the JMA head coach said. “You don't see it very often. At the same time, you have to look at what you have. You have to look at your strengths and weaknesses, and you have to look at the scoring rubric to know what’s best for your team in the long run.”
With those smaller numbers, the Trojans had to make every piece of choreography, every tumbling pass and every stunt count this season, especially on Saturday when they attacked the scoresheet. Only 1.5 points separated first from fourth place, so all of JMA’s extra hours of practice and film study more than paid off once the state championship announcement was made.
“After seeing the competition this year, I thought it was going to take anywhere from an 83 to an 85 to win, so that’s what we shot for,” said Stephens, whose team came in at 84 points. “We really tried to execute everything as well as we could. When it came down to it we got our execution points just high enough.”
Outside of execution, John Milledge competition cheer’s strength stood in the team’s tumbling ability as nine out of 10 Trojans flipped and spun to help add to the squad’s overall point total.
Individual honors were also handed out at Saturday’s state championship held at Georgia Southwestern. JMA senior Abigail Patton closes out her cheerleading career as now a two-time GISA All-State recipient.
Although he admits to being a little surprised about his team’s repeat state champion status, Stephens pointed out that all the necessary ingredients were there for the back-to-back winning recipe. The Trojans improved week-in and week-out and saved their best performance for the final Saturday of the 2019 season.
“The girls gave their best performance of the year by far,” he said. “They brought it when we had to have it. They had to be perfect in order to win because the spread between the top teams was so close. They brought it and I’m glad they did. It was a moment of sheer joy for everybody involved.”