Middlesboro cheerleaders bring home UCA National Championship

Published 3:46 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

By Jay Compton



After putting on a sensational performance in Monday’s finals in Orlando, the Middlesboro High School cheerleaders have been named UCA National Champions in the Small Varsity Division.

“I’m so proud of our cheerleaders and our coaches. I’m just tickled to death that we went down there and won the national championship. It’s a big honor for our cheerleading program,” Middlesboro Superintendent Waylor Allen said. “They work just as hard as the football or basketball team with all the hours they put in. We are just tickled to death.”

The team was welcomed home Tuesday night with an escort by the Middlesboro city police and fire departments as cars lined Cumberland Avenue. A crowd of family and friends greeted them by waving glow sticks and setting off fireworks after they pulled in at the school.

Members of the team include: Alexis Marsee, Kennedy Yoakum, Shelby Vaughn, Olivia Johnson, Jaylyn Mink, Abney Allen, Zaida Flanary, Kamryn Foster, Shayla Ruiz, Alyvia Wilson, Aubrey Fuson, Thalia Partin, Haley Branham, Ava Barnett, Trinity Harriston and Amelia Emmett. They are coached by Shea Yoakum, Carlena Carter and Jennifer Green.

The girls brought home gold medals, a trophy, a banner to hang in the gym, and each was wearing a coveted white “National Champs” jacket.

This was the fourth year the MHS team has advanced through the UCA regional competitions to advance to the Nationals at Disney World in Orlando. They competed against 62 other teams from all across the country. They registered the top score in Saturday’s preliminary round and advanced straight to Monday’s finals where they had the top score again to win the championship.

“We were there with people from Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, everywhere. When we went straight to Finals we knew that we were on the right track,” Coach Shea Yoakum said. “Once you perform you go back and watch yourselves and you get to see your performance. We’re always nitpicking it — you didn’t do this or you need to fix this. There was not a single comment that was made in that room because they absolutely left it all on the mat.”

Yoakum and Carlena Carter have been coaching the group since they were in youth cheer as 7-year-olds. Carter said winning the national championship was a testament to all their hard work over the years.

“We started with these kids when they were seven years old and we’ve watched them grow, we’ve watched them fight and we’ve watched them work,” she said. “This group is special. All of them have been special, but this group and the way that they worked this year and the way that they bought in — I mean, snow days at home, weekends, there were days that we lifted weights, went to practice and then cheered at a ball game. They’ve been unbelievable and that dedication paid off.

“I want to give God all of the glory. These girls chose faith over fear when they went out for that last performance.”

Senior Alexis Marssee said being national champions is a dream come true.

“We’ve been dreaming of it since we were youth cheerleaders and we’ve worked and worked and we finally did it,” she said.

Senior Kennedy Yoakum said she knew the team had a good chance of winning after they advanced straight to the finals after the preliminary round.

“Once we finished our finals performance and we saw the video playback at the end I just knew that was it and we did what we needed to do,” she said, adding that the team was touched to receive such a warm welcome as they arrived back home. “It’s amazing. It feels really, really good to see how much people care about us.”

After starting with the group as 7-year-olds, Coach Yoakum went on to be the middle school coach with Carter taking over the high school program.

“When they got to the high school I thought I was done until (Carlena) tried to retire on me last year,” Yoakum said. “Our daughters are both seniors this year and I went to her and said: ‘We have to finish what we started.’ She came back and we finished what we started in a big way.”

The coaches said all they ask of the girls is to do their very best.

“They were in competition with themselves, not anybody else. They had to be better today than they were yesterday,” Yoakum added. “If you watch the performance it was absolutely electric. The crowd went crazy, everybody went crazy.”

While everything went well during the final performance, Carter said it really comes down to the end of their routine.

“You really don’t know until that final moment when they walk and have that last formation where they start saying ‘We are MHS!’ When those stunts went up we knew this was it and in that moment I knew, ‘Wow, we have done this,’” she said.

The MHS girls were the second to last team to perform and Yoakum said the coaches felt like they were going to be the winners once the fourth place team was announced.

“When they announced the fourth place position we were kind of certain who was going to win. Then they announced third place and we said, ‘We got this,’” Yoakum said. “(Carlena) and I both hit the floor and they just went crazy. It was an amazing thing.”

Senior Shelby Vaughn summed up the feeling the girls had after learning they were national champions.

“It means a whole lot for myself and our team,” she said. “We have worked so hard for this in and out of the gym — workouts, conditioning and practices. We’ve worked so long for it and it’s finally here.”