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Xtreme Cheer provides friendly competition and growth

The Sparx team members, Xtreme Cheer owner Traci Loecker said, are a noncompetitive group and participated in Tiny Level 1 exhibition Saturday at the Xtreme Cheer Challenge at the Corn Palace. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

Some may not consider cheerleading a sport, but that doesn't mean it can't be "xtreme."

Saturday, more than 570 girls from various dance and cheer organizations joined in the Xtreme Cheer Challenge at the Corn Palace.

Traci Loecker, one of the event's organizers and owner of Xtreme Cheer LLC in Mitchell, said this is the fourth year of the event, which is a competition and an exhibition.

"This is our biggest year," she said. And, she said, it's just getting started. This year, the event's participants are largely from the immediate area -- Pierre, Huron, Yankton, Beresford and Tea, and several groups from Sioux Falls. In the future, Loecker said she hopes to draw crowds from Nebraska, Iowa and maybe even further.

"The potential is huge," Loecker said.

Such a large influx of people isn't just good for the event, Loecker said -- it's good for the town. "It's just great, it brings all these teams, their families," Loecker said.

For the competition portion of the event, a panel of judges evaluates either team or individual performances. Loecker said it is a points-based system, and cheer competitors are rated on skill, creativity of routines, enthusiasm, tumbling and stunting, i.e., getting thrown into the air.

Dance competitors, she said, focus more on creativity and skill.

"They don't do stunting or tumbling, usually," Loecker said. The dancing, though it doesn't include stunts, is still 9-year-old Xtreme Cheer member Andrea Thelen's favorite part. In her fifth year with Xtreme Cheer, Thelen's mother, Deb, said she was looking for exercise-based activities for her daughters. Andrea agreed.

"I was bored at my house," she said. Five years later, they're still competing, and Andrea still likes it, she said.

"I just like to show off and perform," Andrea said. Loecker, who has been involved with cheerleading since she was in middle school, has never grown tired of it, either.

"I love it," she said. "If you want to be around the most positive people, be in a cheer gym." As head coach, that positivity is something she works hard to maintain, she said -- that, and prayer.

"We promote faith and fitness," Loecker said. Profits from the event are split evenly between Xtreme Cheer LLC and the booster club, which Loecker said helped plan the event.

Loecker said the funds raised are used to buy new equipment for the gym at Xtreme Cheer; this year, that meant new mats.

"It's our biggest fundraiser of the year," Loecker said.

She said the day also included a "jump-off," where competitors can pay a fee to come back and reprise their best jumps of the day. The money raised from that, Loecker said, goes to benefit the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

"That's something we really like to do," she said.

But, it's not just a competition. Loecker said the Xtreme Cheer girls don't compete in the Xtreme Cheer Challenge, because she feels it would be a conflict of interest.

"I mean, I hired the judges, etc.," Loecker said. "We just do an exhibition."

She said that still gives the Xtreme Cheer students, of which there are about 60, a chance to perform and gain experience.

One of the exhibition groups was the Sparx, which Loecker said is comprised of participants aged 8 and under recreation, or noncompetitive, participants.

But, there's also the senior level 2 group, Elite, who join in. Loecker said the day's competition included six levels, from "tiny" to "senior level 3."

New this year, Loecker said was the presentation of the "Spirit of the Palace" award, a quilt, made by the Wessington Quilters (a group in which Loecker's mother participates).

The award, based on coach recommendations, was given to Lauren Bern, a member of Ultimate Dance from Beresford and Tea, based on "outstanding leadership, positive attitude and commitment to faith, team, family and community."