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ST. LOUIS – The Christian Academy of Greater St. Louis’ cheer team won the Missouri Christian Schools Athletic Association state championship Friday, but their road to victory was not smooth.

The team of seven led by coach Kayla Payne ran into a string of roadblocks as the spring semester began. First, four of the seven team members are also on the basketball team making scheduling practices tough. Second, the team lost their first scheduled week of practice in January when several teachers and students contracted COVID causing winter break to be extended an extra week. This meant basketball games from that week had to be rescheduled resulting in the cheer team only having two hours of practice during the last week of January. Then there were snow days in February and during that same week, a beloved teacher died. With eight days left before the competition, one of the cheerleaders contracted COVID and another had to isolate.

Coach Payne said she was consistently changing the routine and having practices via zoom when necessary.

“I had been telling them they had the talent to win, they just had to put the work in,” Payne said.

Competition day came on Friday, February 18 and all seven members of the team were able to compete in the small division which does not do a pyramid. The team was made up of three seniors, two eighth-graders, and two sixth-graders.

There were three UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) judges at the competition this year. Payne said there is always an odd number of judges. Each judge scores the routine out of a possible 100 points and then the scores are added together. The three-minute routines are made up of cheering and music portions. The competitors perform stunts, jumps, dancing, and crowd interaction. Christian Academy received a score of 270.25 out of a possible 300 to win the competition held in Joplin at the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Missouri.

“I was incredibly excited for them,” Payne said.

The 15-year-old program has won eight state championships. Payne is in her seventh year coaching and is also a high school math teacher at the school. This was her second state championship with the team. Her mother was the program’s first coach. She won five state championships during her time as head coach.