ANAHEIM – The Thurston Junior Cheer (TJC) team traveled to Anaheim, Calif. in late February to compete in the USA Junior Nationals competition. TJC sent two teams, Traditional Red and Black. Both teams claimed National Championships for their divisions, with the Traditional Black team also taking home the honor of Grand Champion, given to the highest performing team across all competitions during that session.
“They really stuck together this year, and they really showed everybody who TJC is,” said Jessica Hass, head coach of the Traditional Black team. “They did amazing, and I’m very proud of them.”
Hass, a former Thurston High School cheerleader, is in her sixth year with the junior program, three of those as head coach. Jazmine Stevens, head coach of the Traditional Red team, takes home a National Championship in her first year as head coach.
“It was so stressful, but so exciting,” Stevens said of her first year. “I can’t wait to move forward. You just learn so much as you go through it, and I’m excited for this next season and see what we can bring into it from this year.”
It was a long season for the junior cheer team, who started fundraising for a potential nationals trip last June with everything from cookie dough to carnivals. Then there were the practices.
“They did really, really well. We practice three to four nights a week, for two hours at a time. And then they compete on Saturdays, so it’s a lot for them,” Stevens said.
According to Hass, it’s well worth the work.
“As an athlete, it’s just a huge bonding experience. You have to really trust everybody on your team,” Hass said. “It makes me teary-eyed knowing some of these kids I’ve had for a very, very long time. They came to me not knowing how to do a cartwheel, and now they’re doing things they’ve never dreamed that they could do. When you put your faith in yourself, when you put your faith in your team, it just goes to show you can accomplish anything.”
Thurston cheer has been accomplishing a lot recently. The TJC program followed up Thurston High School’s cheer team nicely after THS won state in early February. It’s a testament to the cheer tradition and program in Thurston.
“The nice thing about having this junior program is we can really build them up. Our youngest cheerleaders are little kindergarteners that get out there. And we’re sort of a feeder program into the high school so a lot of our coaches are alumni who have cheered at Thurston,” Stevens said. “Having the good coaches, and continuing that legacy on is really great. And just wanting the kids to succeed and do good and continue on through high school.”
It was a perfect end to a great season, and the team celebrated in style.
“We got to celebrate afterwards and go to Disneyland and California Adventure for two days and just kind of bond with each other,” Hass said. “It’s definitely a season that those girls will never forget.”