Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Belen seeks a high score during the Eagles 4A “Game Day” performance at the Pit in Albuquerque during the Spirit State Championships.


The Pit was filled with hugs, cheers and plenty of tears Friday and Saturday during the Spirit State Championship, one of the largest competitions held by the New Mexico Activities Association.  

Those emotions weren’t just confined to the athletes and coaches. One man, perhaps a grandfather, had tears streaming down his cheeks as his team left the Pit floor.   

“This is an emotional sport for sure,” said Marlene Barela, first-year Los Lunas co-ed cheer coach, adding the season is longer than any other high school sport. “We’re starting in June, and we end our season in April. If you have something like a ‘drop’ it gets emotions going for sure because that’s what you’ve been putting your whole life into.”  

The Tigers did have a drop, with an athlete falling, during their 5A “Game Day” routine, but bounced back in “Cheer with Music.”  

LLHS senior Deven Aguilar described it as “Major setback, major comeback.”   

Los Lunas cheerleaders were on their game during their “Cheer with Music” routine in Albuquerque at the Spirit State Championships.

“It’s the best feeling and the worst feeling in the world,” Aguilar said about the nerves that build up. “But when you’re out there nothing else matters. All that matters is your team and those stunts. It’s a great feeling after.”  

Aguilar, a former LLHS football player, is often assigned a role as a spotter or a base, lifting teammates.  

“There is a lot of pressure to hit those stunts,” Aguilar said. “I really thrive under it.  It makes me want to be better for the team.”  

It’s up to the coaches to find the best spot for each member.  

“We just test their skills all year long and wherever they are thriving that’s where we put them,” according to Barela.  

With two routines to master, it doesn’t hurt to have a strategy.  

“We try to make it a lot more simple, clean with crowd involvement,” Belen coach Pauline Vallejos says of Game Day.  

That is followed by Cheer with Music, “which comes with a lot more difficulty as far as skills and tumbling.”  

“It’s really intense,” said Eagles’ senior Kendall Carrejo. “There are a lot of things that we’re focused on, and you just have to perfect it.”  

That is especially true in front of a large crowd.   

“It’s something to coordinate every small move to hit,” in the routine, said Vallejos. “I think that’s what drives these girls, just the perfection of it. The girls find it a challenge because they have to overcome their own fears and they have to see their worth. They have to find their confidence.”  

Hip Hop performance by the Los Lunas Tigerettes was well received at the Spirit State Championships in Albuquerque.

The other half of the Spirit Championships is the dance competition, which requires “synchronization, energy, smiles and then just having fun,” according to Joni Thompson-Armijo, coach of the Los Lunas Tigerettes.  

As for the pressure?  

“That’s what we live for,” Thompson-Armijo said. “We work all year just for this moment.”   

To get to that “moment,” which lasts less than three minutes, takes plenty of dedication.  

“We’ll have a three-week break,” after the championships, the coach says. “They’ll start working out all summer. We workout and lift all through the year,” aided by other LLHS coaches.  

“My whole high school career has been eat, sleep, breathe Tigerettes. It’s a lot of emotion,” senior Tilly Garcia says of this phase of her life coming to an end.  

The dedication paid off for the Tigerettes with a crowd-pleasing, smile-inducing dance in the Hip Hop category.   

For most of the athletes, their “Spirit” days will conclude after high school; however, the lessons learned may endure.  

“I don’t think dance will be out of my life. It will still be relevant in some ways,” said Garcia. “It’s taught me to be confident and organized. Just live life in a fun way.”  

“I would have to say patience, trying to work as a team,” is the big thing Belen’s Carrejo will take with her.  “It’s not as easy as people think it is.”  

Angelina Chavez, a senior, called the LLHS cheer team “family” because “We’ve been through everything together. I want to take all that I’ve learned here and the sportsmanship and bring that on to college,” where she hopes to continue in cheer.  

Judges score each team in two different routines and then add the points together for the final score. Organ Mountain was the 5A champion in Co-Ed Cheer, with Los Lunas seventh.   

Belen was sixth in 4A Cheer. Taos was the team champion.  

In 5A Dance, Los Lunas was fifth, with Roswell taking home the first-place blue trophy.  

Valencia did not enter a team. Audrey Anna Aragon, in her first year as Jaguars coach, resigned in December and immediate efforts to hire a replacement were unsuccessful, according to Wilson Holland, Los Lunas Schools director of athletics. Holland said interviews for the vacancy were held last week and the position should be filled soon. 

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.