One of the first things that comes to mind when people think of Killeen High athletic achievements is the 1991 state championship title the Kangaroos won after beating the Sugar Land Dulles in the Class 5A game at the Houston Astrodome.

Alongside every football team that has competed for Killeen, there has been a group on the sidelines to lead the crowd in supporting the Roos — the cheerleaders.

While local football, basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball teams typically have the opportunity to bring home a state championship, it is the cheerleaders who have the chance to bring home a national title.

The city of Killeen will be represented at the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s National High School Cheerleading Competition held at Walt Disney World this weekend by two local schools — Killeen and Ellison — for the first time in 11 years.

The competition is structured differently than a typical all-star meet.

“It’s a game-day format,” Killeen head coach Brooke Knight explained. “It’s very much sideline, getting the crowd involved and showing that leadership on the sidelines.”

While football state championships have 48 minutes of regulation play, the girls have three minutes to win it all.

First, they start with a routine to a band’s song before leading the crowd in a situational chant, which means they have to know the difference between offense and defense. Finally, they end with their school’s fight song.

“What they’re looking for is leadership on the sidelines,” Knight said. “Are they getting the crowd involved?”

They must also keep in mind their technique, sharp motions and performing stunts — all with a smile on their face.

Killeen senior Dakoda Chastain believes the Roos biggest strength is their ability to perform without the crowd noticing if they made a mistake.

“If anything were to happen, we wouldn’t let it get to us,” she said. “We’re going to push through until the end and just make sure that if something happens, we can end it as if nothing did.”

The Road to Nationals

For the girls of Killeen, the road to nationals started when they first tried out for the cheerleading team.

By making the junior varsity or varsity squad, they then attend a UCA summer camp to take part of squad credentialing.

For a team to get credentialed, they have to meet requirements that then qualify them to be eligible to compete at regionals.

In October, the girls try out again for a spot on the competitive team. This year, Killeen has 29 members with a mixture of both JV and varsity members.

The team then competes at regionals in November, right before Thanksgiving, and if they earn a certain score, they then receive a bid to go to nationals.

“So, that’s how we got here,” Knight said of the journey.

And while fans usually see the cheerleaders with their big bows, the glittery makeup and their smiles on the sidelines during football games in the fall, they don’t see the work puts in.

“I feel a lot of outsiders don’t understand is the teamwork that cheerleading has,” Knight said. “If we’re missing one person, the whole routine is off.

“So, we tell them all the time, every single person matters.”

Each member made a difference when the Roos went to UIL competition in January and placed 8th in the state out of 65 teams in their district.

“We’re the top team in our district and we were only two points away from first place,” Knight said. “Knowing that going into nationals now, with the feedback we got back from that competition and where they were sitting, they’re definitely confident and feel that they can do it.”

Killeen senior Illeana Valadez echoed the squad’s confidence as they will be competing against the team that edged them out for the No. 1 spot in Florida.

“We know we’re right there,” she said. “Just the smallest sharp motions, loudness, hit signs or anything is going to push us over them.”

But in order to get there, the girls have to pay a big price.

However, Knight says the school has been supportive of the team’s achievement and the opportunity they have.

As soon as she knew the team earned a spot and the chance to compete at nationals, Knight says she told Killeen principal Susan Buckle, who said the team needed to go because it’s a great experience for them.

Fortunately, the cheer team has a budget granted to them through the fine arts department which they are able to use to fund part of the trip.

The squad held fundraisers over the winter break, including putting on a mini cheer clinic in order raise the rest of the money needed to go.

Is cheerleading even a sport?

It’s the age-old question, and if you ask the Roo cheer squad, their answer is yes.

“We do twice as much as other sports,” Chastain said, reminding people that not only do they focus on their routines for competition, but they also spend late nights supporting the school’s various other teams.

Currently, the team doesn’t have a permanent place for practices as they share small parts of the football field in the summer and fall before having to rearrange their schedule to use the small gym during the winter.

“Sometimes when we don’t even have a spot, we’ll cheer in the gym foyer,” Chastain said of the team practicing wherever they can, even if they can’t do stunts in the small area.

But Chastain and Valadez hope that bringing a national title to the school can change that, “It’s just another way of proving we’re worth it,” Chastain said.

“A little bit of room, enough so we can stunt,” is all they need, she said.

Despite having nowhere to call their locker room, the team is happy they have the opportunity to bring a national title back to Killeen.

“It’s amazing knowing that we can be the first in a long time to bring home a national title,” Valadez said. “It can also prove that cheer is a sport.”

Rivals Meet in Florida

The longest running crosstown rivalry will meet outside the city limits of Killeen as Ellison is also heading to Walt Disney World.

In terms of football and basketball, this matchup is usually the most anticipated game of the year. In cheer, it’s more about representing Killeen ISD and putting the town on the map on a national platform as the competition will be streamed live on Varsity.com, as well as televised on ESPN and ESPN 2.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling,” Valadez said as the competition draws closer, “knowing that Killeen High School cheerleaders, and Ellison, are going to represent Killeen as a district, as a whole.”

And while they’re rivals, you won’t find any ill will between the teams.

“It’s a competition between us,” Valadez said. “We want to be better than them but at the same time we’re going to root for them just like they rooted for us when we made finals at UIL.

“We’re going to support them any place they get, and I’m sure they’re going to support us whatever place we get too.”

Chastain added, “We want to be as much as a support system for each other and that’s the way I think it should be.”

Leave it all on the mat

Nationals has been the goal the team set for itself, and it’s been the prize that’s motivated them all through UIL and regionals.

“To motivate the girls, we kind of made Disney our final destination,” Knight said, “and used Disney quote and things like that.

“This is what we’ve wanted.”

Before they hit the floor for the final time this season, Knight wants her team to have fun throughout the whole process because that’s what cheering is all about, “and then just leave everything on the mat.”

The idea of bringing home a national title gives Chastain and Valadez chills because it’s something their team has been dreaming of together through all the Friday-night games, early-morning practices and summer conditioning.

“That would be the highlight of my whole entire high school career,” they said in unison.

fcardenas@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7562

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