Cheerleading pays off for GSHS graduate

Phil Sandoval

Like a perfectly executed backflip, Michelle Whidden has turned her cheerleading skills into a paycheck and a college education.

Starting next week, Whidden, a member of the 2002-03 Glenwood Springs High School’s Class 4A state champion cheer team, will be demonstrating the techniques of the sport to up-and-coming cheerleaders as a instructor for the Universal Cheerleaders Association.

And when the camp season ends this summer, the recent GSHS grad will continue her cheerleading career, with an athletic scholarship in hand, as a member of the Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College cheer squad in the fall.

Both positions, Whidden said, resulted from hard work in the high school’s practice room, along with a well-thought out decision.

“I did gymnastics (at Glenwood Gymnastics Academy) before I did cheerleading, and I got hurt quite a bit. I had quite a few concussions and my doctor said if I had any more, I’d have to quit gymnastics,” Whidden recalled.

“So I chose cheerleading because it was safer.”

It turned out to be a good choice.

Whidden was introduced to Kim Richardson, one of the high school’s three cheer coaches, in her freshman year. “But didn’t do anything until my junior year,” she said.

“I decided to try out. I did. And I love it,” Whidden said.

In the two years Whidden was a member of the high school’s cheer squad, the Demons have had tremendous success in competitive cheerleading.

In the past two years, Glenwood earned a state title and has qualified for the National High School Cheerleading Championships twice.

Whidden said that last year’s squad earning the state championship helped her reach her current positions.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I’m doing the stuff that I’m doing now,” she explained. “Winning state was one of the main things that boosted my confidence.”

Whidden was one of only three students in the camp of 300 cheerleaders to receive an invitation at high school camp last summer.

“The instructors pulled us aside and told us what it was,” Whidden said. “I really thought it was pretty cool. But, they told us we had to try out and just getting an application wouldn’t guarantee a spot with UCA.”

Tryouts came months later.

In a gym of 30 other hopefuls Whidden impressed the staff.

“It was quite intimidating,” she said. “I remember seeing people there that taught me at (summer) camp.

“Unless you are a UCA veteran, you have to try out every year – that was really intimidating because I was trying out with all the other people that had done it before.”

“There were about 500 people who tried out throughout the nation,” Whidden said. “They said it would be a month, but, everyone found out a month later than that, because they had to interview people in other states.

“The longer it got. I got less confident. It was nerve-wracking.”

Whidden’s nerves subsided when she got her acceptance letter, along with a big box a few weeks later.

“I walked in the house and there was a box for UCA. I knew right away it was my uniforms. When I put the uniform on, I felt really professional.”

“It’s still kind of hard to believe,” she said. “It’s hard to think that in a week, I’m actually going to go to a camp as an instructor.”

And she’s anxious to get started.

“I’ll look back on how I felt at camps, like when I felt tired and hot and kind of stressed, and I’ll help them because I know how I felt when I was learning. So I want to help them.”

In the fall, Whidden will balance cheerleading with academics as a student at Coffeyville Community College.

Between cheering and competing for the high school, and the UCA tryouts, Whidden was seeking a college who offered cheerleading scholarships.

She found the answer at a college recruitment fair in Aurora.

“Coffeyville was one of the schools there,” Whidden explained. “(Coach) Gerri Chandler was there, I approached her and she gave me a recruit letter, then I went down to Kansas and tried out.”

At the college’s tryouts, Whidden had to learn a new role – how to work with male cheerleaders.

“It was very different. I never stunted with guys before. A guy in my tryout group wanted me to stunt with his, and I tried a lot of things with him, and I got it on the first try,” Whidden said.

By earning a spot on the Coffeyville team Whidden earned $3,700 in scholarship money for books and tuition.

As a bonus, the GSHS grad has the possibility of performing at National’s again. Despite Coffeyville’s being only a two-year school, the Red Raven cheerleaders are the current Division II College National Champions.

Whidden said the accomplishment took a lot of training and diligence on her part.

“I just didn’t get to be like this,” she said. “I had to work many hours and many days to get to where I am.”

Working hard and aiming for your dreams is something Whidden wants to relate to the students she’ll be instructing.

“It’s not impossible to do this. If you work hard and you are persistent and don’t let your fears get in your way – you can succeed. That’s not only for cheerleading, that’s for life in general,” Whidden said.

“You can pretty much accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and work hard at it.”

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