HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – For the first time in school history, the Thunder Ridge High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, took home the state title in cheerleading.
And it happened after the team and the school suffered the loss of a parent, a teammate and their principal.
“Oh my gosh, so proud! They’re an amazing group of kids,” Coach Mandy Martinez told KDVR.
She clapped so hard when her athletes won that she popped the blood vessels in her palm. It was black and blue Sunday evening.
Team captain Avery Crowell said the squad has been an underdog for years. And out of all years to win it, this one means the most.
“My mom passed away in February and that’s why this means a lot to me, because she couldn’t be there to see me,” Crowell said.
“She’s an incredible individual. So she lost her mom and she got on the plane the next day and went to nationals with us,” Martinez said.
Dealing with the loss of Avery’s mother was difficult on the whole team. They operate more like a family, and when one person hurts, they all hurt.
Through the tragedy, they took seventh at the national competition.
“It was like we kind of had a moment of fun and forgetting real life,” Martinez said.
When they got home though, real life got even tougher.
“We came back to Colorado and we’re home for about a day,” Martinez said, “We had one of our kids commit suicide in our program.”
Three weeks later, tragedy struck Thunder Ridge a third time: The school’s principal died after a long battle with cancer.
“It was just a lot of loss and heartache in a really short period of time,” she said.
The team decided to shift its focus away from competition and toward family instead.
“Just family first and relationships first and people first,” Martinez said.
She said that’s when everything started to turn around.
“It makes us work a lot harder because it makes us come together as a team and it builds that trust,” captain Madison Cooper said.
The team said the tough moments make their state championship so much sweeter because of all the hard work it took to get there.
“We won and I just knew that [my mom] was watching over me and she was so happy for me,” Crowell said.