January 20, 2020 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Blackburn soars on Friday nights

Kaylee Blackburn isn’t afraid of heights.

In fact, the St. Joseph-Ogden High School cheerleader is known as a high-flyer.

Blackburn, who is usually at the top of the pyramid when the cheerleading squad is doing stunts, said the fact that she trusts her teammates enables her to complete the high-flying stunts.

“I used to worry about not being caught,” she said. “But I no longer have that concern because I trust my teammates that they will be there to catch me.”

Blackburn said completing a stunt and knowing that the cheerleaders are making the crowd gasp in amazement gives her a shot of adrenaline.
The cheerleaders like to keep the crowd engaged in the game. They sing the fight song after every touchdown and dance to the songs the band plays. They also do a lot of spirit cheers to get the crowd fired up.

“Which in turn comes right back to us,” she said. “The Maroon Platoon coordinates a lot of the cheers that we do during a game, so we work with the organizers of that group quite closely.”

Blackburn, a senior at SJO, has been cheering on Spartan football teams since middle school, which includes competing at the youth level.  Some of the football players that Blackburn helps cheer for on Friday nights have come through the youth program as well, meaning that she has cheered for most of these players and their families for several years.

Since Blackburn essentially grew up a Spartan cheerleader, the youth night that SJO conducts every year is a special time for her.
“It’s really neat to watch the youth cheerleaders come in and watch us perform, because they are fascinated with what we do,” she said.   “I remember when I was one of them, I looked up to girls at the high school level.”

Blackburn said she enjoys watching the younger cheerleaders learn to love the sport she loves as well.

“If they stay with the sport they can have the same opportunity that we have when they get to be our age,” Blackburn said.

Cheerleading isn’t just a commitment for nine weeks. The team workout in the off-season by focusing on conditioning and running.
“A typical practice may consist of some stair laps, followed by tumbling exercises and finally, some stunt practice either in pairs or as a group,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn is a cheerleader year-round, but other cheerleaders only cheer during football, concentrating on the dance team during the winter months when basketball cheer takes center stage.  Cheering in front of the hometown fans is one of the highlights of the week for Blackburn, but she also likes going on the road seeing different fields and talking to other cheerleaders from the opposing school.

“We go to camps with a lot of the cheerleaders from the schools that we play, so it is nice to get to see some of our friends when we play away from St. Joseph,” she said. “Cheering in front of them and showing what we have to offer sometimes makes our night, not to mention seeing our fans in different stands still fired up to cheer the Spartans on to victory.”

As far as what the future holds for Blackburn, she is not planning on continuing to cheer in college, instead wanting to focus on doing other things.  However, she wouldn’t rule the possibility out.

“Right now, I’m not planning on cheering in college, I’ve really enjoyed it, but I think I want to do something different while concentrating on academics.  I’ll never say never, but I’m leaning towards not continuing”, Blackburn said.

Regardless if cheering is in Blackburn’s future, one thing is clear; she still has a few high-flying moments left in her time at SJO.  Catch her and the rest of the cheerleaders in action this Friday evening when the Spartans travel to Rantoul to face the Eagles in an Illini Prairie Conference matchup.  Kickoff is at 7 p.m.  

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