GREAT FALLS — Compared to the West Coast or the South, Montana isn't well known for its competitive cheerleading.
Not yet, that is. After making waves last month, the program at Rise Athletics in Great Falls might have something to say about that.
Rise Athletics has been around for just three years, but already the gym’s cheerleading teams are hanging banners. The biggest of those came in early May at the Allstar World Championship in Orlando. Rise's "Elevation" team, made up of 8- to 12-year-olds, ultimately finished fourth against teams from all over the country. Plus, their music went out in the final performance, but Rise owner Lani McCarthy said that didn’t faze the team.
"They moved on like champs, like you couldn't even tell. ... They didn't miss a beat," she said. "The entire crowd, the whole arena, all the cheerleaders backstage, all the cheerleaders in front of them, everywhere were just screaming counts at them. It was pretty amazing. And they hit a flawless routine."
To make it to events like the one in Orlando, Rise’s teams have to win bids at regional competitions, traveling as far away as Las Vegas and Phoenix. Out of thousands of teams, the Elevation team won a full-paid bid, putting them among the best of the best. No small feat coming from Great Falls.
"That's one of our advantages, is that when our name says 'Rise Athletics, Great Falls, Montana' on there, everybody's like, 'Oh, like, we don't have to worry about them,' And they just kind of toss us to the side," Lani's daughter Emma said. Emma, a senior level 3 cheerleader, helps coach the Elevation team.
"But when we step foot on that mat, then they're like, 'Dang, maybe we need to double check and make sure that we're on their radar.'"
It was an immensely successful year, but there’s no offseason in competitive cheer. Rise flies in a choreographer from California, and then tryouts, skills camps and conditioning will fill the summer before full team practices resume in August. Then the teams will get back to competing for bids with dreams of reaching new heights in bigger competitions.
"We're chasing the bid. And this year, everybody wants to go to Summit. That one is in Disney World, Florida," Lani said. "That’s the goal, climb to the top."