Sugar-Salem's cheer team poses for a photo with their banner and trophy after winning the 3A state title.

Sugar-Salem’s cheer team poses for a photo with their banner and trophy after winning the 2021 3A state title.

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Before Sugar’s threepeat football championships, Before Sugar’s threepeat wrestling championships, Before Sugar’s numerous cross country championships the Diggers had another dynasty — a cheer dynasty.

Sugar-Salem’s cheer program won four state titles from 2004-2008 then again from 2012-2018, but their coach, Hayli Peterson, who cheered on one dynasty and coached the other, said this year’s team might be the most impressive.

“I’ve had cheerleaders from previous years come and watch and literally say to me, ‘not in a million years could we have pulled off that routine. And I look at them and say, ‘you’re right,’ you guys probably couldn’t have.Those cheerleaders were like, ‘I won three times.’ but I couldn’t have done that. The level that we were on this year was a whole nother level. It was a whole new competition world for us this year.”

Peterson said the wait, caused by a loss in 2019 and the cancellation in 2020, made it even more special to win.

“It was a good feeling to bring that banner back into our gym,” Peterson said. “It’s been a few years since we have had it. With COVID-19 last year, we didn’t get the opportunity and two years ago we didn’t win. It felt like it had been a long time.”

Several of the cheer leaders were on the 2018 squad as freshman when the Diggers last won.

“Their freshman year when they won it was so exciting but we had been winning it almost every year or every other year,” Peterson said. “This year, not having won it two years ago and then not having the opportunity to win it last year, it felt like the anticipation and the buildup and the excitement to go to state was ten times stronger.”

Part of Sugar’s dominance resulted from their pining for the trophy they longed to bring back. As practice time shifted after the holidays to after school, the Diggers had two more weeks to prepare.

“I’ve never had a team fight so strongly for something that they wanted so badly then they did for those two weeks,” Peterson said. “I think that win, all the emotions of everything that they’d given all season long especially in those last two weeks before state just came crashing in and they were crying with joy and all the hard work paid off.”

The Championship makes ten for Sugar’s cheer program if you include those won before 2009 when cheer became an official IHSAA sport.

Peterson gives much of the credit to her mom, Terri Shirley, who’s coached at Sugar since before cheerleaders could win any kind of championship.

“A lot of success is owed to her,” Peterson said. “She has stuck with it so long and kind of created a dynasty with the program. She’s just been there a long time and she’s created something pretty awesome.”

The team swept all four categories.

This team, talentwise, was incredible,” Peterson said. “I’ve had more tumblers on my team this year than I’ve ever had. I’ve had harder tumbling passes in my routines than I’ve ever had and the stunts that we were able to pull off with this team were just on a whole other level.”