Florence's Ockerman Middle School Hawks flying high after national win

N.Ky. Voice: Team of 32 become one spirited voice

FLORENCE, Ky. – One group of spirited girls learn and exude confidence, dedication, athleticism through cheerleading—and winning a national championship doesn’t hurt either.

The Ockerman Middle School Hawks’ cheerleading team is sporting “champion” jackets and a brand new trophy that coach Kathy “Miss B” Bacelieri can add to her classroom, where trophies spanning 20 years in cheer, speech and drama line the walls.

The young Florence, Ky., team dominated at the 2014 Jamfest Super National cheer competition in Indianapolis last month, competing against 12 middle and high school teams from across the country.

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It’s a chilly January morning—it’s the day they have been working toward for months.

It’s the day of competition.

The 32 spry junior high girls and their coach wake up bright and early. In an effort to get them warmed up, Bacelieri turns up “Rocky Top” and engages the girls in some dancing, catapulting their spirits and mood.

It’s time to hit the floor.

The lights are brilliant.

The music pulsates.

Their hearts palpitate.

The Hawks’ cheerleaders, donning maroon, white and glitter, bound to the mat and perfect their positioning.

Adrenaline pumps through their veins. Their flashy smiles energize the crowd, which is cheering them on. And their hard work starts to pay off one beat at a time.

Bacelieri is planted on the sideline, jumping up and down, yelling, with her arms extended into the air, fluttering her spirit fingers.

But those three minutes on the mat were preceded by months of preparation beginning during their summer break.

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“Everything we had worked so hard for had come together,” eighth-grader Rachel Geruc said, who cried when she found out that they won.

“There’s a lot more blood, sweat and tears than people see,” 13-year-old Micaela Stroud said.

Through several broken bones, bruises and stitches throughout the season, the young team of sixth- through eighth-graders proved that cheering is more than spirit fingers and poms-poms.

“It takes an athletic ability—we train all year round,” Bacelieri said. In fact, her girls train three times a week in tumbling, lifting, dancing, cardio, strength and flexibility. 

“[Cheer] is most definitely a sport,” she said.

Ranging from 11 to 14 years old, their routine is full of lifts, tumbling and tosses and is all about counting on each girl next to them.

“It takes a team [to win],” Bacelieri said. “Learning to work in a group.”

“We’re confident and we believe in each other,” 8th-grader Gianna Pretelini said.

It’s that teamwork that they said they hope not only their school sees but also their entire community.

“Cheerleaders are spirited!” 11-year-old Kylie Feltner said. “It makes others happy and spirited.”

Beyond spirit, the skills they are learning on the cheer mat are what Bacelieri said will make them successful contributors to society in the future.

“They’ll go on to make great leaders, helping others… they are saying, ‘I’m a woman and I’m here! Watch me!’” Bacelieri said.

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It was time for awards and to find how they did at the competition where they had taken second best in years’ past. They sat in a circle, where Bacelieri danced in the middle, getting them pumped up.

The moment that it was announced the Hawks were No. 1, her team started shouting, “Miss B.! Miss B.! Miss B.!”

“Just unbelievable, you never lose that feeling from a win,” Bacelieri said. “It’s a tingle that makes your heart race.”

“They were on it. No mistakes,” the proud coach said.

“I feel like when people see us win, they see we can do it. We tried as hard as we can… we win as a team and lose as a team,” 13-year-old Hailee Carter said.

The team won national champions, spirit award and a fully paid bid to the U.S. Finals to Chicago, which is only awarded to one school team. The Hawks, along with Bacelieri, and co-coaches Leseligh Chumbley and Gina Dewar, will be headed to the Windy City to compete in April.

The U.S. Finals includes all the champions from all competitions over the year. It’s the best of the best, Bacelieri said.

The team’s wins-
2014-
• KAPOS- 2nd place
• Jamfest Cheer Super Nationals- 1st place (National Champions), the Spirit Award

2013-
• Showtyme- 1st place
• Jamfest Cheer Super Nationals- 2nd place
• COA- 1st Place (National Champions)
• Northern Kentucky Cheer Coaches Association (NKCCA)- 1st place in Game Time Competition and all music

The team:
6th grade-
Bailey Cook                                       
Kylie Doherty
Alyssa Kruml
Amanda Kruml
Lily Lown
Tori Panzeca
Paige Plapp
Zoie Rohr
Rachel Townsend

7th grade-
Britney Davenport
Melynn Estes
Kylie Feltner
Olivia Kanatzar
Grace Marksberry
Grace Meihaus
Mckenzie Milner
Kaitlyn Roberts
Sarah Sammons
Laina Taylor

8th grade-
Rachel Geruc
Haley Hixenbaugh
Alison Hyder
Alleyna Locke
Katie Loustutter
Erica Novogroski
Gianna Pretelini
Bri Sailing
Micaela Stroud
Haliee Carter
Rachel Ramler
Madie Bell
Elly Lisner

Northern Kentucky Voice: Your Voice, Your Story is a periodic and ongoing series on WCPO.com about the people of Northern Kentucky making a difference in their community.

For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to www.wcpo.com/noll. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.

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