It didn’t take Chapin’s competitive cheer squad long to make its mark on the Midlands sports scene.
Cheerleading became a fully sanctioned High School League sport in 1996, and the Eagles have won nine state championships and finished first or second 13 times in 14 seasons since 1999.
Five Midlands programs have more championship trophies on display, with Irmo boys soccer leading the way with 16 titles.
Chapin’s rise to cheering power has taken flight under Vicki Williams, who got her start as a cheer coach when her three daughters were cheering at Irmo Middle School. Williams, a teacher at Irmo Middle for more than 20 years, has guided the Eagles to seven titles and two runner-up spots since 2003. The team has an active streak of five straight Class 3A championships.
“I was asked to take over the middle school team, and since I was in ‘yes mode’ at the time, I said sure,” Williams said. “Of course, I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved every minute of it and started to learn how to coach.”
Williams loved it so much she coached the Chapin varsity and Irmo Middle School teams while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
“It was crazy, but at least I wasn’t teaching that year, so I was able to get through it,” she said. “The cancer came back in 2006, but I wasn’t about to let that keep me from coaching. I think it was important for the girls on the team to see that you have to keep fighting and that you can overcome problems in sports and in life. I wanted these girls to see that women can beat this, can survive.”
Williams is a stickler for details as a coach.
“Our philosophy is that execution wins championships, not how intricate or difficult the routines are,” she said. “We’ve developed a reputation. People know that when Chapin steps on that mat, they will see a team that is entertaining and one that executes at a high level. Of course, each new season brings added pressure to the girls to live up to the tradition of excellence established by the girls who came before them, but the tradition is also a great motivator.”
There has been debate through the years about cheerleading’s status as a sport.
In 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in an accidental injury lawsuit case that cheerleading is a full-contact sport in that state, and that participants could not sue for damages in the event of accidental injury.
In 2010, a lawsuit was brought in federal court to force a ruling on whether college cheerleading qualified as a sport for Title IX purposes. The court, citing lack of program development and organization, ruled that cheerleading is not a sport.
But the S.C. High School League and every other state association deems competitive cheer a sport.
Competitive cheering is an intense physical activity based upon organized routines that run two minutes, 30 seconds in high school. The routines incorporate tumbling, dance, jumps, cheers and stunts. The time demand on the athletes is considerable, especially with support cheering (at football games etc.) being a requirement for competitive team participation.
“The commitment these girls must make is tremendous, but that’s what is necessary to have success,” Williams said. “The girls must learn how to manage time well, balancing their cheerleading with academics and their home and social lives.”
The cheerleading season begins with tryouts in April with 15 sanctioned practice sessions through the end of the school year. There are no restrictions after school is out, and many teams attend cheer camps at various colleges.
Williams gives her team a break in July in preparation for the start of the high school season in August. She works with the competitive and support (football) teams.
Some team members also sign up for private lessons.
“This is not a carefree activity,” Williams said.
And it all starts at a young age.
“We have a little girls camp every year, and then there’s middle school and lessons at professional cheer schools,” Williams said. “A girl has to meet certain standards to make our varsity team; she must be able to execute a standing tuck to even be a candidate to make the team.”
The big first step of the season for Chapin and most competitive teams is when a professional choreographer is hired to install the routine and music for the season in August.
“It usually costs around $4,000 to get the routine and the music in place, but that doesn’t mean I don’t tinker with it,” Williams said. “I’ll make any changes I think need to be made until we get to the state qualifier, then you go with what is in place, like it or not.”
Chapin’s attention to execution had paid dividends at the state meet — which is a one-and-done proposition.
“We perform high level stunts, but we’re not about necessarily wowing the crowd with stunts,” Williams said. “We must do what we do well. Judging if based on degree of difficulty and execution. Execution is what wins. We meet all the standards for the highest degrees of difficulty in our routine, but we don’t try to push it just for the sake of pushing it.”
Chapin’s scoring pattern at recent state meets proves the point.
During the current run of five straight championships the Eagles have rated the highest score in any classification three times. Chapin tallied a state meet record 287 points (out of a maximum 300 points) in 2010 and also broke 280 points while leading all teams in scoring in 2012 and 2010.
Mauldin broke Chapin’s record with 288 points while winning Class 4A honors in 2011.
Williams was not pleased when she realized her first Chapin team did not have mats for practice inside and was relegated to the football field.
“That wasn’t going to work for me, so I made it clear we had to get mats or I wasn’t going to be coaching for long,” she said.
The administrative decision to back Williams and the competitive cheer team with proper equipment, facilities and support has proven to be a wise one.
Chapin Cheerleading state titles
2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2003 | 1999
2005 | 2004 | 2000 | 1998