Jacksonville Middle School team wins big at state competition
By Stephanie Bezler
When Emily Hudson became a cheerleader back in junior high many years ago, she loved it so much that she continued cheering though high school and college. It became such a part of her life that she decided to pursue coaching and share her passion with others. Hudson cheered at Routt Catholic High School and Illinois College, and then got an opportunity to start an all-star cheerleading program at (the now former) Stevens School of Dance & Gymnastics. She coached teams there until 2020. Hudson says, “I definitely developed a love for coaching and was able to gain a lot of experience and fine tune my craft during those 15 years.”
Fast-forward to today when Hudson is leading a phenomenal group of young cheerleaders at Jacksonville Middle School. Hudson has been the cheerleading coach at JMS (Jacksonville Middle School) for eight years. She has had a tremendous amount of success with her teams in recent years. This year, her team was named state champions in the Illinois Elementary School Association Large Cheer Division, as they also did in both 2019 and 2022. They beat out over 80 teams to achieve the highest score of the day with a 95.5. They also earned a third-place finish in the IESA (Illinois Elementary School Association) Medium Routine Division.
This year, they received many other accolades throughout the season. They started their year by winning a superior trophy at Universal Cheerleaders Association’s summer camp and were invited to cheer at the Citrus Bowl in Florida. Three girls from the team — Kolby Hoffman, Elizabeth Saxer and Sophia Withee — made the trip down to Florida to participate in the Citrus Bowl performance. Hudson’s team later won first place in the game day division at both Alton and Highland Regionals. They also won the medium routine division at the Highland Regional and placed second at the Alton Regional. In addition, they were awarded the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association State Champions in both medium routine division and game day division.
The legacy that Hudson is working hard to create is showing through all her teams’ achievements:
ICCA (Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association) Medium Routine State Champs — 2022 and 2023; ICCA Game Day State Champs — 2023; IESA Large Cheer State Champs — 2019, 2022 and 2023; IESA Large Cheer Runner-up — 2020; and IESA Medium Routine State Champs — 2022.
This year’s team was comprised of: eight eighth-graders — Julia Adams, Jaycee Bates, Mia Frye, Kolby Hoffman, Lydia Keefe, Elizabeth Saxer, Alivia Swift and Sophia Withee; two seventh-graders — Jaelie Harp and Josie Megginson; and eight sixth-graders — Edith Bryson-Adams, Ella Chumley, Chloe Colen, Madalyn DeFrates, Madi Doerr, Elizabeth Guidish, Macee James and Mattisyn Weikert. This talented and dedicated group of girls practiced two days per week in season for one hour and fifteen minutes each day. They cheered at all JMS home boys’ and girls’ basketball games. The cheerleading season for these athletes runs from June through February each scholastic year, with tryouts typically held in March annually.
When asked what traits and skills are needed to become a cheerleader, Hudson replied, “A willingness to learn and work hard are the two most important things! But I also look at tumbling abilities, jumps, sharpness of motions and dance ability. Most of the girls who make the squad for the first time have no cheer experience.”
In building a winning team, Hudson says that she’s very upfront about her expectations: “I want them to work hard and be willing to learn. I try to play to the strengths of the kids on my team. I look for areas that need to be developed and we focus on those. But I also try and highlight the things they do well. I pay attention to every detail of the routines. We work for consistency. I’m a firm believer that consistency builds confidence on the mat.”
Hudson stresses to her team that they are only at competition with themselves, noting, “I think keeping focus on our own development and not worrying about what other teams are doing prepares us to put our best foot forward on the mat. The ultimate goal is to be proud of what we put on the mat and to know that we did our best.”
Hudson is highly respected by her team and is a huge part of their success. Her favorite thing about coaching is the relationships she develops with her cheerleaders. She also loves watching them set goals for themselves and meet those goals. To Hudson, the most gratifying thing about being a coach is watching the development of the girls from the time they are sixth-graders to the time they are eighth-graders. “Not only do they grow tremendously as cheerleaders, but they also become more confident, develop responsibility and leadership skills, and they truly grow to love the sport. When they leave me as eighth graders, every year I’m overwhelmed with pride at how far they have come.”
Sounds like Hudson is building a legacy, one cheerleader at a time.