Not even a global pandemic could stop the momentum of the Timothy Christian competitive cheerleading team.
Forced to change practice routines, wait out a statewide sports stoppage and compete in virtual competitions throughout the 2020-2021 season, the Trojans simply did what they do best: compete at an ultra-high level.
Coach Aaron Armstrong’s squad finished fifth in the state at the small varsity level, continuing a decade-plus run of domination under his leadership.
In 16 seasons at his alma mater, Armstrong (Class of 2003) has taken teams to state 13 times, including a current streak of 12 in a row. His 2010 and 2012 teams finished second in the state at the small varsity level, and he’s had teams finish in the top 10 at the small varsity, medium varsity and co-ed levels.
But this year was different, way different — for obvious reasons.
“Things were very hard at first with everything that was going on,” said Armstrong. “We started with summer tryouts and we could only be at school a certain amount of time with the health protocols. In the fall, things were great and then we had to pause. In January, they said we were going to have a season. We went back to work and did what we like to do and that was working towards state. Things were hard at first, but we were very adaptable and bounced right back. It was a very hard-working team that had accountability with each other and helped each other.”
Timothy competed in seven virtual events this past season, including the Sectional and State meets. The Trojans won two, finished in the top three in two more and never were lower than fifth. Timothy finished third at Sectionals.
“We would record in our practice gym and then send that to whoever was hosting the competition that weekend,” Armstrong explained. “We would practice at night and record and choose the best video.”
Armstrong said the virtual element was a major hurdle to overcome.
“It’s harder when it’s not that day of competition with all the adrenaline going and all the nervousness,” he said. “It took us a while to get our bearings about what kind of video to send in and how to portray our routine over video. The difference is coming out live to the audience and judges. We didn’t have that.”
Timothy Christian four-year senior performer and captain Elena Munk agreed that the virtual aspect took some getting used to.
“We didn’t get to experience having in-person competitions, which is the best part of a typical year,” she explained. “We had to get used to a new way of doing it. It definitely is a lot harder to get the momentum going without a crowd. You get a lot of adrenaline from the crowd cheering. We pushed through and did our best with what was given to us.”
With the COVID-19 protocols, Timothy was not able to employ stunting in its state routine. “That is a strength of ours,” Armstrong noted. “We used our same routine with tumbling, jumps and the choreography. We work hard on all those aspects and we push the limits. Without the stunts, we had to push the envelope everywhere else. We spent a lot of time going to the tumbling gym. We focused on throwing a clean routine. We knew the girls could perform well and had the energy to portray to the judges. We drilled and we drilled. Once we had that routine down, we knew we could send it in and we had a great feeling about it.”
Timothy’s march to state this season was done with a relatively young roster, which included three seniors in Munk, fellow captain Ava Goodwin and senior transfer Kylie Jackson.
We are a family
“We came together as a team,” Munk said. “We were able to celebrate and show off all the talent and skills that we worked so hard at during the season. The feeling you have when you hit a routine is the best feeling there is.”
However, Munk said Timothy’s cheerleading program is about much more than winning and losing.
“Freshman year was a really hard season for me and cheer helped me,” she said. “With the cheer team, I know I am not alone. I got through it because I know God is with me and I trust Him. He will help me through everything. This is 100 percent the coaches. They put in so much time and effort. Coach Aaron has been doing this so long. He pushes us to be the best and gives us what we need to get that extra push to be the best.”
Armstrong said his philosophy about the program has never wavered.
“I tell them on the first day we are going to push you hard and make sure you can be the best you can be as an athlete and as a person, and that’s something I have held on to all these years,” he said. “Never settle. We have an open door policy. We want them to have a relationship with God first and with each other. Once they have those goals set, they will push themselves to be better and that relationship with God will make everything else better. We lean on each other. Timothy Christian has been a huge part of most of my life. I was part of the team when it first started competing and now I am able to give back to a program and community that means so much to me. We are a family.”