WHO: The Texas Southern University cheerleading team
WHAT: The HBCU brought some serious championship hardware home to Houston.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: The National Cheerleaders Association, founded in 1948, hosts an annual competition to crown the country’s top cheer team. This year, Texas Southern became the first Historically Black College or University to win the title in the event’s 75-year history.
The athletes were graded on two grounds: the crowd-leading segment (how well they appeal and respond to the audience with visuals, vocals, showmanship) and the fight song or band chant segment (which was judged partly on how well they mimicked game day realism). Out of one hundred possible points—ten points for each of the ten categories—the Tigers earned a near-perfect performance score of 96.1, more than 10 points better than the runners-up from Niagara University. After the win, the team, clad in their maroon and gray uniforms, dropped nothing but their shoes and ran straight into the Atlantic with the championship trophy.
This isn’t some farfetched underdog story either. The Tigers went to Florida with plans to make history. “When you bring an HBCU to a competition that’s not really meant for us, we’re going to come out and strive for greatness,” team captain Hailey Walker said. “We’re going to go in there with our hearts knowing that we’re going to come out with a win.”
“When I first came to TSU, I told the team we’re going to Nationals,” head coach Shontrese Comeaux explained. “I knew this was the year and the team to get the job done. I’m so proud of them and where we’re going to take the cheer program next.”
Attempting to describe the entire performance probably won’t do it justice, so if a picture’s worth a thousand words, here’s a million:
In the state of Friday night lights, cheerleading is almost as integral to football as the game itself. The creator of the Netflix docuseries Cheer, Greg Whiteley, came across the subject and its richness while filming for his football series Last Chance U, which followed junior college athletes on a path to glory and/or redemption. “[Cheer teams] practice about three to four times longer than the football team,” he said. “By the fifteenth or sixteenth practice, you see falls from twenty feet and you almost yawn. You recognize these inherent dangers are the price of poker.” Corsicana’s Navarro College, where Whiteley shot Cheer, also won big at this year’s NCA championships, picking up its sixteenth national title in the Advanced Large Coed Junior College division.
From Corsicana to Houston’s Third Ward, we know what state the growing glory of cheerleading calls home.