With smiles, dedication and talent, the seven members of the Firebirds cheer team performed their national-winning performance at Our Gym, on Grant Road, last week.

On that day, they were in the comfort of their training gym, but just a few weeks before they were standing in front of television cameras, large crowds and being watched by their competition during warm-ups.

The group of girls, who can range from 6 to 9 years old, has a passion for cheering, and according to coach, Jervis Williams, adapt well under pressure. The only problem now, according to Williams, is that they have no idea what it’s like to finish in second place.

The Firebirds are undefeated over the last two seasons at 9-0, with the most recent victory being the biggest.

For the team’s first national competition, the Firebirds traveled to Anaheim, Calif., on April 9-10, to compete in the National Cheerleaders Association all-stars. Heading in to competition, the girls definitely had their work cut out for them. A week prior to competition, team member Emma Larsen landed wrong on a stunt, breaking her finger.  Larsen said she didn’t know it was broke at first, and she kept practicing. After finding out it was broken, the 8-year-old was worried she wouldn’t get to compete at nationals.

“For Emma to go through what she went through, it justifies what our program is about,” said Williams. “She executed what she was supposed to and performed the stunts well.”

Larsen, of Northwest Tucson, said in the end, it felt good to contribute.

“My mom told me I was a lucky girl because other kids may not have been able to compete,” she said. “I think as a team we all did well because we all believe in teamwork, and we are all best friends.”

Williams, a Northwest Tucson resident, said all the girls on the team are unique, and like any team’s success, the key is camaraderie.

“These girls act like one big family. They are like sisters,” he said. “Some days they hate each other, and the next day they are the best of friends. This is the best group I’ve coached in all my nine years here at the gym.”

Giving credit to assistant coaches John Sanchez and Gabriele Valentino, Williams said without them the team wouldn’t have such success.

Keeping a young squad on task can be difficult at times, said Williams, but with Sanchez, Valentino and a group of hard workers they are finding success easily.

“It takes a lot of patience and work to get 6- to 9-year olds ready to hit stunts on key on the court,” Williams said. “These girls are indicative of where we are in the program, and how are coaches are.”

Besides teaching the girls skills that they can carry outside of cheerleading, Williams said he and his assistants enjoy watching the girls grow throughout the season.

Annissa Gray has been coming to the gym for four years.  Williams said the oldest of the group has come a long way, and serves as a strong leader.

Another competitor who has emerged this season is Flora Duran, of Red Rock.

“Flora came in late, but she has learned her routines quickly, and just steps up to any challenge,” Williams said.

Duran, 7, said she takes all routines seriously and practices hard because she loves cheerleading.

“I’ve gotten used to it, I love to do it and just love every part of the sport,” she said. “I don’t know what my favorite part is, it’s probably a tie between jumping and stunting. We just did an awesome job at nationals. It was so cool to be on TV, and the fact that we stayed undefeated is good too.”

Another strong talent on the team is Natalie Swisher, who came out at the start of the season shy and wouldn’t open up.

“Her dynamic has changed so much from the beginning of the season to now, it’s amazing,” Williams said. “She is a great addition to the team.”

Other team members include Jocelyn Urias, Natalie Swisher, Ahnika Miller and Hannah Lee.

Williams said the ultimate goal is for the Firebirds to compete in the super bowl of cheerleading competitions at Nationals in Dallas. But, that won’t be until next year.

Reporter Thelma Grimes can be reached at 797-4384 or by email at tgrimes@explorernews.com.

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