Sask. team wins gold at cheerleading world championship
Rebels Cheerleading Athletics' team Smoke 1st from province to do so
A cheer team in Saskatchewan has made history by becoming world champions.
Rebels Cheerleading Athletics' (RCA) team Smoke — which is based in Regina — won the International Open Level Five division at the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, beating out 26 other teams in the division.
It's the first time a team from Saskatchewan has won gold at Cheerleading Worlds — a tournament that draws more than 9,000 cheerleaders from 40 countries, according to its website.
Eric Bestvater, head coach of Smoke and owner of RCA, said it was a lifelong dream come true.
"It was very surreal," he told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.
"It's the pinnacle of our sport, and to have a team that was able to come and compete and take home the gold was unbelievable."
He said the team had its fair share of challenges leading up to the tournament.
Like many other athletes and teams, in-person training became more complicated due to the pandemic. Bestvater said that at one point, they could only have a certain number of athletes in the facility at the same time, meaning the team couldn't all train together.
On top of that, Bestvater said they had some injuries to deal with.
Nevertheless, he said those challenges weren't enough to discourage the team.
"We've had lots of things we've had to overcome, and through it all they just really came together as a group," he said.
"They're like my second family. They just really bonded and then kept pushing and pushing and were able to get here and do what they did."
Venice Mitchell, 15, and Cassandra Moyer, 16, are team members and have each been part of RCA for more than five years.
"It's never easy getting to this point. Every team has its struggles, but the bond that we created was very helpful to help us overcome any challenges that came our way," said Mitchell.
"When it came down to it, we came together and we pulled it off, so I couldn't be more proud of my teammates."
Moyer had a similar sentiment, saying she feels "really proud of our whole team because we really came together and worked hard and we really achieved something truly amazing together."
"We're like a family. That's like the best way to describe it."
Bestvater said unity was a major factor in the team's success.
He said this group is "probably the closest team that I've ever had the opportunity to work with. They're just so uniquely supportive of each other."
"This year they really had each other's back and really kind of worked together as a unit, and I think that's what gave us the edge that we needed."
Bringing recognition to the sport
All three of them said they want the championship win to bring more recognition and appreciation for the sport of cheerleading.
"I feel like cheer doesn't really get the recognition it deserves," said Moyer.
Not only does she want cheerleading to get more respect, but she also wants other young people to have the chance to "find the sport and fall in love with it, just like I did."
Mitchel, meanwhile, said she hopes the historical win will help shed light on how cheerleading can bring people together.
"Maybe we can get some more people just really finding out what cheerleading really is and creating some more friendships along the way."
In keeping with the theme of unity, Bestvater also said he hopes the championship will bring more exposure to cheerleading and the relationships it creates.
"It's just such an amazing sport and one where these athletes — both male and female — form a really strong bond with each other," he said.
"It's really the team sport of all team sports, in my opinion."
With files from The Morning Edition, Samanda Brace