Spartan cheer team headed to state for sixth year

About a decade ago, Superior High School cheer coach Kelli Ritsche was a Spartan cheerleader, and she has not lost any of her enthusiasm over the years.

SHS Cheerleading
The Spartan cheerteam performs at halftime of a Spartan basketball game. (Jed Carlson/

About a decade ago, Superior High School cheer coach Kelli Ritsche was a Spartan cheerleader, and she has not lost any of her enthusiasm over the years.

At Monday's cheer team practice, Ritsche was full of energy as she ran the girls through their routines. She clapped her hands to help the cheerleaders keep time and then demonstrated how she wanted the cartwheels done in the newly modified portion of Superior's stunting routine.

It was a long day of work for the Spartans, but they didn't complain. The Wisconsin Association Of Cheer/Pom Coaches (WACPC) state cheer meet is less than a week away.

"She works us hard, and that makes us all better," said senior captain Katie Latscher. "If it wasn't for her we probably would not have placed. But we're regional champs right now."

Senior captain Lizzie Knuuttila also said Ritsche was one of the most organized and dedicated people she knows. If not for her, the girls said they would be lost.


In the WACPC regional meet at Wisconsin Rapids, the SHS cheer team placed third among small Division 1 schools with its stunting routine and tied with Oconto Falls for first place in the cheer dance category.

The Superior cheer team will now compete in the WACPC state cheer meet Saturday at Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena in Green Bay. The Spartan team is mainly comprised of the varsity squad, but a few cheerleaders from the junior varsity team have also been pulled up to perform in the competition pieces.

Cheer team members are: Alexis Archambeau, Holly Bayless, Danielle Chisholm, Kaitlyn Corbett, Elizabeth Knuuttila, Alesha Kotter, Katie Latscher, Becca Sash, Hannah Vollmer, Taylor Wahlberg, Heather Walkowiak and Jennie Xiong.

"Coach Kelli always says to us right after we're done performing, 'Did you guys do your best?' She says that's all that matters," Latscher said. "Obviously we did our best, and it paid off."

The cheer team members are nearly inseparable now, but early in the season there were a few hiccups.

"You know teenage girls, when you put 10 or 12 of them together, little things come up," Latscher said. "We worked through them and that brought us closer as a team. I feel like this is probably closer than we've been the last couple of years."

The Spartans needed that closeness to advance to the state competition this year.

In the past, Superior had been nearly guaranteed a place in the state performance because it was among the only teams to compete in its division in the regional meet.


"Last year and this year were the first year's where we've had competition," Ritsche said. "Where we competed didn't have many teams, so it was kind of, we show up and we could have stepped on the mat and went."

Superior has competed to go to state for six years, and in all six years the Spartans have advanced.

Latscher and Knuuttila said the Spartans earned their spots at state this year. More teams competed in their regional meet, and the teams that competed performed at higher levels.

"There was a lot of pressure riding on this year; this is not a free ride anymore," Ritsche said. "We don't just get to show up and do whatever. We've got to really compete for our advancement to state."

The Spartan girls have spent about six hours a week preparing for the cheer competition since the end of September. In addition, the girls spent more time working on other non-competition routines and cheering at games.

"It takes a lot more time and effort than a game," Knuuttila said of preparing for competition.

During games, the cheer team's main goal is to get the crowd pumped up, and the girls perform simpler stunts they're sure to hit every time. Many of the stunts in the cheer team's competition piece are not allowed to be performed on a gym floor unless mats are put in place.

But even during the competition, when mats are in place, Ritsche won't take any risks where her athletes are involved.


"With cheer, everything is about safety for me as a coach, so that what I'm putting out there on the floor I know 100 percent of the time they're going to be able to do safely." Ritsche said. "A lot of teams we compete against will risk something that maybe only goes up and hits solid 50 percent of the time. The go on the floor and they risk it and then somebody's on the ground. ... For me, I'd rather put out a routine that is safe and solid and that they know that they can hit so they can walk off that floor and feel like a million bucks."

The Spartan's stunting routine lasts about two and a half minutes and includes tumbling, cheering with signs and flags and a dance portion.

The theme for the Spartans' cheer routine this year is dance. All of the songs chosen for the piece include the word dance and the choreography is orchestrated to highlight that. Ritsche described the cheer routine is "flashy" with "a lot of movement."

Latscher said the team chose older songs for their routines this year, mostly from the 1990s.

"We want the judges to related to what we're doing and not be like, 'Oh, we've heard this song for like the 800th time today,'" Latscher said. "And I think it pumps us up too because we don't have to hear the songs on the radio when we're driving or at home."

Superior received positive feedback from the judges for the most part in the regional competition. The only specific area the Spartans were asked to work on was maintaining enthusiasm throughout their entire routine.

Thankfully for the Spartans, they have a well of energy at their disposal in Coach Ritsche.

"They really just want to go and have fun," Ritsche said. "To get here was just such a huge accomplishment for us, now of course we want to do awesome. If we got third, I'd be doing cartwheels."

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