The anticipation in the room was palpable.
Hundreds of cheerleaders sat silently on the floor in the UC Davis Activities & Recreation center, awaiting the results of the United Spirit Association California Open on Feb. 7.
The winner would get an automatic invitation to “the big one” — The Summit in Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida.
Heads were bowed, fingers were crossed, eyes were shut tight and teammates were holding hands.
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“In the senior coed level three,” came the announcer’s voice, “that would be Clovis —”
Cheers erupted as athletes sprang to their feet, pumping their fists in the air as they jumped and hugged each other. The noise drowned out the announcer’s last word “— Intensity.”
Intensity earned a near-perfect 95.8 out of 100, becoming the third Clovis United team to earn a bid to this year’s “Super Bowl of cheerleading,” said head coach Bethany Pierce. The Summit is Varsity All Star’s Cheerleading Championship held in April where the best teams in the country come to compete.
Two junior teams — Ambition and Imagine — got their bids at the Universal Cheerleading Association Northern California Championship in Sacramento on Jan. 17.
“Only 10 percent of the teams in the United States get invited to this competition,” Pierce said. “We went all last year and the year before without getting a single bid. It’s very hard to accomplish, so the fact that we have three teams going is pretty impressive.”
But getting a spot to compete among the best of the best is only half the battle — the three Clovis United teams must raise more than $100,000 in two months to get everyone to the event in Florida.
“Each parent is fundraising on their own,” Pierce said, ticking off the many ways they’re going about it: “They’re doing tamale sales, babysitting services, selling Jamba Juice cards, doing bake sales, driving for Uber, one parent is going to take kids in uniform out to local businesses to do a demonstration to try to get sponsorships. They are fundraising their butts off.”
The three-day competition from April 29 to May 1 includes preliminary, semi-final and final rounds.
“It is not a cheap trip for them to go on, but it is a very prestigious event for them to attend. So whenever we get this opportunity, we make it happen for them,” Pierce said, noting that the last time Clovis United went to The Summit was three years ago; only one of its teams won a bid to go.
Clovis United is unique in that it is a nonprofit organization backed by Clovis Unified School District. It is also the largest and longest running cheerleading program in the Fresno–Clovis area, Pierce said.
There are about 140 athletes in the program, 60 of which are on their way to Florida for Summit. Clovis United is in its 13th year.
“So far, from everyone we’ve talked to, we are like no other.” Pierce said. “A majority of All Star teams are just privately owned by people who have started gyms, and they are for-profit operations.”
While the nonprofit is backed by the district, Clovis United also accepts athletes who are not attending Clovis Unified schools, Pierce said.
“We have kids that travel from Hanford and Lemoore,” she explained. “We take everyone, but we have the backing of the school district, which allows us to be able to do what we love to do. We’re able just to give them an experience that keeps them out of trouble.”
The kids have been together for so long as teammates that it translates into their cohesive and spot-on performances.
“A majority of the kids on the senior team have worked together since they were at the very bottom in our tiny team and have worked their way up to where they are now,” Pierce said. “A majority of these kids have stayed with our program, which is why they are as strong as they are. We’ve trained them from the very beginning.”
The coaches have tweaked the routines after gathering feedback from the judges. They want to give the kids the best opportunity to compete against the 350 teams at The Summit.
“This is the big one. If they win this competition it’s bragging rights galore,” Pierce said. “It’s a huge, huge deal if they win.”
Clovis United teams will perform their unique 2 ½ minute routines to custom music compilations; they’ll don their signature black and yellow bodysuits and shorts.
“It looks darn good out on the floor,” said coach Alyssa Troutt.
Clovis United has set up a GoFundMe account so the public can make donations, big or small, to the team’s travel expenses. All donations are tax deductible. Follow Clovis United on Facebook and visit its donation page at www.gofundme.com/myk4qbys.
“Any donations, sponsorships, anything they’re willing to do, big or small, we would be extremely grateful,” Pierce said.