The 2023 cheering season came to a close last week for Owensboro, as the squad placed first in an in-game competition at halftime of the Red Devils state tournament game—marking their first ever state championship.
The in-game competition was started by the Kentucky Association of Pep Organization Sponsors after the organization was founded in 1954, something that the Owensboro cheer team has competed in every time that OHS has been to the Sweet 16 in the last 20 years. Head Coach Heather Cavitt and assistant coach Sarah Price never competed in the event during their time as Red Devils cheerleaders, so well after KHSAA took over high school cheerleading and kept the competition they knew that they wanted to this time around with the team.
Cavitt said that in-game competitions are something that they prepare for all year when they cheer ball games, telling their kids that 90% of the fans will only see them at ballgames so that is where they want to be their best. With plenty of experience coaching and a little help preparing beforehand from a regional representative, Owensboro cheerleading was ready to roll at state.
“My first trip to the Sweet 16 as a coach was 2007 (2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, 2019),” Cavitt said. “Our regional chairperson at the time drove to Owensboro to help us prepare as the rules at Rupp are different than they are at other venues. We have been using those notes since then and adding things as we go along. I have judged several Sweet 16 in-game competitions so I have taken notes and seen things that I like that I know our crowd and pep section would like. We incorporated all of those things.”
The Red Devils defeated North Laurel to claim the state title, something Cavitt said that she will always cherish.
“Hearing our name announced as a semifinalist at nationals was great but last night when they said ‘second place, North Laurel,’ is a moment I will never forget,” Cavitt said. “Sarah Bridenbaugh, KHSAA assistant commissioner, told me they almost knocked her down getting that trophy. She said I love to see teams so excited and they definitely were. This is our first cheer state championship. We only started competing in 2002 (Sally Belcher competed the JV team that year) the year before I started as coach. When I started in the 2003-2004 season, I asked my boss, Anita Burnette, if it was okay if I went all in. She told me to go for it and she was the first person I texted last night. She has always been supportive of me and our program.”
Cavitt said that the cheerleading team has so many kids that participate on other teams and understand the value of hard work and team work, using those relationships to stay engaged with our student section during games all season. With football players, track, volleyball, and a girls basketball player, they want nothing more than for their teams to win and it shows in their performances.
“The authenticity is not something you can fake,” Cavitt said. “And that shows when they cheer. They care about our teams, their friends, and classmates and the traditions so they want them to succeed.That is the key in cheering ball games. You cannot be a robot and bring the energy and the enthusiasm to help your teams win. They trust each other and know that every second on the floor matters. There are no do overs in cheer. There are no timeouts. Every single motion, stunt and skill matters.”
The state championship win is the cherry on top of a great season for OHS cheerleading, having their Black Squad (small co-ed) advance to the semifinals and finishing 20th out 48 teams, the Red Squad (non-tumbling team) finishing 16th and the medium coed game day finishing 12th at nationals. Cavitt shouted out her seniors for being crucial leaders to the team amidst a challenging four years, while noting that this win is big for Owensboro cheerleading as a whole.
“Our five senior girls have endured a lot as four-year members of the team,” Cavitt said. “Covid, not being able to cheer all games, was very difficult for them as they want to be there. Every Owensboro cheer alumni deserves this trophy. They are a big part of our success. We know that it is bigger than us. This is for everyone [who has been an] OHS cheerleader.”
Cavitt, Price, assistant coach Skyler Stewart and assistant coach Alissa Harrington all cheered for Owensboro, so they know just how much it means to represent the school. Cavitt said it’s something that they’ve tried to instill in their cheerleaders and that has truly helped them find success this season.
“We all four cheered for Owensboro High School so we know what it means to be a Red Devil and know that these memories will stay with them forever,” Cavitt said. “We instill that pride and tradition in our teams and it shows in everything we do. I have spent more than half my life at OHS, four years as a student and 22 as a teacher, so it means more to me. It means more to all of us. When we say ‘Forever I Love the Devils’, we mean it.”