SJO senior brings home national title

Hailey Dukeman has been cheering most of her life.

She started cheering in the fourth grade and has made life long friends from the sport.

“I enjoy all of it honestly, but I think the friends you make along the way are the best part,” Dukeman said.

Not only does Dukeman cheer for St. Joseph-Ogden High School but she is on a travel cheer team for Top Star Flyers, based in Champaign.  Dukeman has been to nationals twice with her team. Last year they competed in the Xtreme Cheer Nationals. This year they competed in the Elite International Championships.

Both years, the Top Star Flyers won the national championship.

Dukeman said her experience cheering for Top Star was different than her experience at SJO mainly because travel cheer takes extreme dedication.

“If you have to move plans to be able to make it to practice than that’s what you gotta do,” Dukeman said.

Dukeman said the main difference between high school cheerleading and travel cheerleading is that when you compete on a travel team all eyes are on you.

“There is no team to cheer on and no sidelines,” she said. “You are the game. Everyone is watching you.”

Dukeman said that, as with any group activity, the most challenging part of being on a cheer team is dealing with the different personalities.

“Drama can creep up and cause a lot of problems between all the members,” Dukeman said. “I’ve experienced that first hand and it takes the fun out of it all when girls can’t get along and their attitude gets in the way.”

Dukeman said for the most part the athletes on the travel cheer team are supportive of one another because they all have the same goal—to perform the best they can on the mat.

That goal for Top Star Flyers included winning a national title, which they did in 2017 in Texas and then again this year when they traveled to Florida to compete against teams from across the country.

Dukeman said the biggest misconception cheerleaders deal with is that cheering isn’t a sport and the average person doesn’t realize how much practice and how much blood, sweat and tears are involved in perfecting their routines.

“All people think it is, is cheering on the sidelines at basketball or football games,” she said. “But there is more to it. There is tumbling which is not easy and throwing girls in the air takes a lot of strength and trust.”

Dukeman said she has learned many valuable lessons from her time cheering.

She has learned that you have to work hard to get what you want and you have to support your team through the good times and the bad.

“Trust is also something that you need to succeed,” she said.  “And if you do it right, not only will you have a team but you will have a family.”

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