By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary senior Madesyn Samples had been with Champion Cheer Athletics in Salem for 13 years, since she was five. Brynlee Ramsay had been with the gym for 10 years, since she was six.

But neither had experienced a season like this last one.

Competing in the D2 Summit at Walt Disney World Resort’s new ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orland, Fla., Samples, Ramsay and Champion Cheer’s Level 3 Blaze team advanced to finals for the first time in the program’s 14-year history and placed third in the nation.

“It was amazing, especially my senior year to get third at Summit, it’s just crazy, especially with all my friends there with me,” Samples said. “I think we did so well because we all wanted it so much for ourselves and four our teammates. Everyone jumped up and was screaming and hugging each other and crying and it was really awesome.”

Blaze competed in the semifinals on Saturday, May 12 and then were one of seven teams to advance to finals on Sunday, May 13. They performed a two-and-a-half minute routine of tumbling, stunting, jumping and dancing to music.

Judged by the number of athletes performing each skill, Blaze received zero deductions for a total score of 96.97 out of 100.

“It’s so awesome to see them work all year and then to come out and end the season in such a big event and perform so well and place so high,” said Angela Rasmussen, co-owner of the gym. “In Orlando it is a huge stage at ESPN. It’s very intimidating. They just opened a brand new arena at Wild World of Sports just for cheerleading. Just with the nerves and all of the pressure and all the build up from being there, our kids just did so amazing.”

Champion Cheer has 26 girls on its Level 3 team, ages 11-18, including 10 from Keizer—Ramsay, Madesyn Samples, Ashlin Samples, Kayla Camper, Raegan Bedingfield, Taylor Johnson, Katelyn Hampton, Emily Daniels, Stephanie Wade and Angelina Fajer.

“It was really, really cool,” Ramsay said. “We were the first Champion team to actually make it to finals to day two, let alone take third in the whole competition was just crazy. It was a super cool experience and I’m glad I got to be a part of the team that actually made it to day two.”

Olena Rumbaugh, Brooke Junker and Kaitlyn Roop competed on Champion Cheer’s Level 2 team Burn, which also competed in the D2 Summit in Orlando.

The two teams qualified for the Summit at a national event in Portland in January.

Blaze placed first in the CHEERSPORT National Championships in Atlanta in February.

Burn finished second.

But the D2 Summit was the biggest stage yet.

“It’s much more stressful and everyone is really nervous,” Samples said. “Once we start performing, I think that everybody just looks at each other and realizes that we just have to be calm and trust each other.”

Rasmussen co-founded the gym with Lynelle Blum in 2004 and its has grown to over 130 athletes on its competitive all-star teams, ages 4-18.

“You never know how far you can go but it has been so awesome,” Rasmussen said. “It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Several of our kids have been with us for over 10 years. It’s been really cool to watch them grow up and learn to love the sport just like us.”

Champion Cheer began its 15th season this week with team evaluations.

“It pumped them up so much for this upcoming season,” Rasmussen said of finishing third at the D2 Summit.

“They’re all excited to get back to work and do even better next year hopefully.”