Saying goodbye as a state champion

“Your 2018 in-game state champions are…”

As a small child, I played in various sports and I strived to win first place in every competition or game. Getting the award as a winner gave me a rush of excitement and happiness that I was grateful to share with my team.

Now, a high school senior cheerleader, I am going to tell you how I just received that same rush as I held our state championship trophy in my arms.

On Wednesday of last week, our coach received a phone call from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association saying that we have placed in the top four out of 16 teams represented at the girls state basketball tournament, where our girls basketball team qualified to play for the first time after winning the 13th Region Tournament championship a week earlier.

All of the members of our cheerleading squad were anxious because we competed against girls who were exceptionally good, but we knew in our hearts that we performed better than ever. The KHSAA representative told us to come to the second game on Friday to accept our award. We just didn’t know where we finished in the top four.

Once we stepped into the arena on Friday night, we were lined up by squads, from Ryle to Johnson Central and then Bowling Green and then Harlan County. I looked around at every individual on each team and I could tell that each girl was nervous and wanted to win because they all worked hard to get to where they were, but then the announcer took the court and my focus shifted to him.

Seventeen girls are on our team, and all 17 of us held hands and just stood there while we waited to hear the results. He announced fourth place, third place, then second place — and at the moment we knew. Once he announced second, we knew we had won first.

It was both exhilarating and unforgettable.

“And your 2018 in-game state cheerleading champions are Harlan County!”

That sentence alone sent chills throughout me now several hours later, and something tells me it will still have that effect decades from today. I thought back to all of the long practices, stunt camps, gymnastics, and I realized that it was all over. My cheerleading days are over and we went out with a bang – a state championship. Everything we worked so hard for paid off in one moment.

This year has been absolutely amazing and it’s hard to let go of it. But I am beyond blessed that I can say that the Harlan County High School Varsity Cheerleaders have won WYMT, district, region and now state championships. We have worked hard all year and deserved this.

One of our coaches, Holly Alred, describes exactly what all of us are feeling: “The song ‘We are the Champions’ says it best; ‘It’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise,’ however, prayer and perseverance can overcome any obstacle. We stayed the course, we kept the faith.”

I couldn’t agree more with what she said. This journey has been long and hard, however we proved countless times that we are No. 1 and that’s exactly what won us first place; our hard work and dedication. We could not have made it to where we are without the love and support from everything who has worked with us and we thank you for that.

It’s great to be a Harlan County Black Bear.

Grayson Raleigh is a senior at Harlan County High School and is a member of the Bear Tracks newspaper staff and a student in the communications/creative writing class at HCHS. This is a continuing series of columns produced by student writers.