Varsity cheer flips to coed division

Megan Fahrney, Executive Sports Editor

The varsity cheer competition team competes at the Huntley Sweetheart Invite on Jan. 26. The team joined the Coed Division this year, and now includes four male cheerleaders. Photo by Megan Fahrney

The varsity cheer team bounds onto the mat at the Huntley Sweetheart Invite, with a room full of spectators and a panel of judges before them. Smiles wide across their faces, they begin their routine, bursting with energy. When it comes time for tumbling, junior Will Henning starts from the back left corner of the mat and executes his front flip step out roundoff arabian step out roundoff full, a series of flips ending in a full, which is a 360 degree rotating flip. Applause and cheers erupt from the audience. The Spartans placed sixth out of 19 teams at the invite. 

This season, the varsity cheer competition team includes four male cheerleaders. Last year, the team competed with only girls. The change caused the team to switch from the Large School Division to the Coed Division for competitions. The IHSA classifies teams with two or more boys as a part of the Coed Division. 

Head Cheer Coach Greg Wilhelm said the team has gotten a lot more high school teams following the team on Instagram this year, which comes from when they see the Spartans at competitions. 

“When you’re performing and you throw big skills like [fulls], the judges and the crowd [are] like, ‘Oh, okay, look out for Glenbrook North now,” said Wilhelm. “So that’s pretty cool to see that we’re on their radar, versus previously we weren’t so much.” 

According to Wilhelm, Henning and junior Mitchell Kietzman both perform standing fulls in the routine, which has never been done before by a GBN team.

Senior Katie Mathy said the boys have helped the team perform more difficult stunts than last year. Mathy said last year, the team did “straight-up libs,” a stunt in which bases hold a flyer, who stands erect on one foot with her other leg bent by her knee. This year, the team is performing three-quarter switch-ups, in which a flyer,supported by male and female bases, turns three quarters of a rotation as she switches her legs in the air. 

Henning said when he showed up at his first competition, he was very nervous and did not know what to expect. The routine went really well except for a slight mishap. 

“When [Kietzman] was doing his tumbling pass, like halfway through his backflip, his shoe … flew off and went like 50 feet in the air, and … it was crazy,” Henning said. 

Everyone in the audience gasped and stared at the shoe flying through the air, Henning said. 

According to junior Hailey Waltenburg, she was excited when she heard boys were joining the team because they have strong tumbling due to their backgrounds in gymnastics. 

All four of the boys on the team have participated in gymnastics in the spring after the cheer season. Of the four boys, Kietzman and junior Marco Castelli were on the JV cheer team last year. Henning along with senior Ethan Tan are entirely new to cheer this season. 

According to Mathy, a disadvantage of being coed was initial difficulty with motions and jumps for those who are new to cheer. 

“At the beginning of the year, [the boys] were struggling a little bit with the idea of motions and jumps just because it’s different than gymnastics, but they eventually caught along and they became … a really good asset to the team,” Mathy said.

Waltenburg said she was nervous when she first heard about  the division switch because the Coed Division is more competitive than the Large School Division. She said this year, though, the team is stronger overall, so their placements in competitions have been similar to last year. 

The team advanced to state on Saturday, Feb. 1 after placing fourth at sectionals. They placed 20th out of 25 teams at state. The team placed fourth at both the Crystal Lake Central Invite and the Stevenson Invite and third at the CSL Conference Invite. 

Henning said a lot of the girls in his grade were really glad that he joined the team, and even though a lot of boys would be self-conscious  if they joined cheer, the girls were really supportive and made him feel as though that was not the case. 

Waltenburg said the team is “way better” this year than last. 

“Our coach said it’s been the best routine GBN has ever had,” Waltenburg said.