Photo Gallery: Cheer Team Reaches State

EPHS cheer team performs at sectional

ABOVE: Members of the EPHS competitive cheer team display their tumbling skills during the Rolling Meadows IHSA sectional on Jan. 29. The Tigers placed fifth in the medium division, qualifying for the state meet. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

For the first time since 2017, the Elmwood Park High School competitive cheer team qualified for the IHSA state meet, thanks to a fifth-place finish in the medium division at the Rolling Meadows sectional on Jan. 29. To view a photo gallery of the team's sectional performance, scroll down or use this link for quick access:

The Tigers competed in the state prelims in Bloomington on Feb. 4. They needed to place in the top 10 to advance to the next day's state finals. The squad finished 21st, tying the school's best-ever placing at state as a non-coed team. (In 2006 and 2007, the Tigers placed 16th and 18th respectively in the coed prelims.)

The performance at state concluded an impressive year of competition in which the Tigers took second at the Oswego and Niles West invitationals. The team also finished third in the Metro Suburban Conference championship meet, which was held virtually.

ABOVE: This is the routine the EPHS competitive cheer team submitted to the 2022 Metro Suburban Conference virtual meet. The Tigers placed third in the conference for their performance. Congrats, Tigers! (District 401 video recorded by Dave Porreca)

Congratulations to the team and their coaches, Emily Schoenbeck (head coach) and Natalie Bednarek (assistant coach). This year's team consisted of the following athletes:

  • Anabel Ramirez | Senior
  • Kayla Alvarez | Junior
  • Theresa Diprizio | Junior
  • Aleena Moore | Junior
  • Chavalah Calderon | Sophomore
  • Bella Corso | Sophomore
  • Jasmine Melquiades | Sophomore
  • Anastasia Prodanchuk | Sophomore
  • Anastasiya Bednarchuk | Freshman
  • Isabella Braglia | Freshman
  • Zalise Ramos | Freshman
  • Olivia Shipinski | Freshman
  • Sibora Tace | Freshman
  • Anna (Anya) Zhdan | Freshman

Congrats again, Tigers! We're already looking forward to next year's cheer season!

EPHS cheer team poses as a group after IHSA sectionals.

ABOVE: The 2022 EPHS competitive cheer team are a happy group after learning they had qualified for the IHSA state meet. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view)

Q&A with Coach Emily Schoenbeck

To learn more about the team, District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca conducted the following interview with Coach Schoenbeck via email and Google Drive. Thank you, Coach!

Looking back on the season, what are some of your overall thoughts and reactions to how things went this year?
Looking back on the season, overall I am extremely proud of this team. This season was not easy, but it quickly became a season to never forget. We worked so hard to be here and there is not a single thing I would change. I am grateful for this time and I am thrilled to see what is next.

What was your goal for the team heading into the season?
Starting the season, the cheerleaders and I always had a joke, that I was going to take them to state. Somehow, some way, we were going. So I guess you could say that was part of the goal. However, my main goal was to have fun, to allow these athletes fall in love with cheerleading like I did, and most importantly gain life experiences that come with being a high school athlete. Memories you can take forever, and that’s what I wanted most for this team.

EPHS cheer coaches Natalie Bednarek and Emily Schoenbeck

ABOVE: Assistant coach Natalie Bednarek (left) and head coach Emily Schoenbeck at the Jan. 29 sectional meet. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

What are some of your favorite memories of the season?
My favorite memories are always when the team gains a new skill. Watching the athletes’ faces light up with joy and excitement is a great feeling. Second to that was definitely that moment we qualified for state, it was a shock, and a blessing all at once!

How do you choose and design the team's routines? Is an outside choreographer involved? What does the process entail?
Each routine has to include a cheer, using the athletes' voices, and a music portion. I always prefer to have the cheer first, with music to finish the routine. We hired an outside choreographer, from Cheer Destiny. Lenny worked with us over the summer for camp and came back to choreograph our competition team. Lenny will come to practice over the course of three to four days, four hours at a time to teach the routine. We build each practice to complete the routine. Lenny and the team have developed an awesome bond and we always look forward to seeing him.

Bella Corso and Anya Zhdan perform at cheer sectionals.

ABOVE: Sophomore Bella Corso (left) and freshman Anya Zhdan (right) were among the 10 underclassmen on the 14-member competitive cheer team this year. Anabel Ramirez was the squad's only senior. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

How long does it take for the team to learn a routine for competition, and what does the learning process involve? In other words, do you break down the routine in parts and learn it cumulatively over several weeks? How does it work?
To completely learn the routine, it takes about a total of 10 hours of choreography. Once the routine is complete, four to six weeks before competition is essential. We typically focus on the cheer and music separately, in order to perfect each part. Over the course of the season, each competition comes with critiques and suggestions to improve our routine. So after each competition, we change minor things to improve scores, as our season progresses. The routine we competed back in December looks a whole lot different than the routine we competed at state. It is always an ongoing, fluid process.

What meets did the team compete in this year, and what were the results?
Second place at the Oswego High School Invite; second place at the Niles West High School Invite; third place at the MSC competition (virtual).

EPHS cheerleaders perform at sectionals

ABOVE: Junior Aleena Moore (left), junior Kayla Alvarez (center) and freshman Anastasiya Bednarchuk reach the top of the pyramid during the EPHS cheer team's sectional performance at Rolling Meadows High School. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

What makes a good cheer performer?
This is a great question; we talk about this a lot throughout the season. The best cheerleaders are the ones who go out on that mat and have fun. The energy and facial expressions, clearly showing you that they love what they are doing, are always the easiest/best cheerleaders to watch. No matter what happens on that mat, during the routine, the best cheerleaders always have fun.

If someone is interested in trying out for the team, what advice would you give them?
My advice would be to start conditioning! These athletes make it look easy but cheerleading is all endurance. Come with your best foot forward and be ready to work!

EPHS cheer team performs tumbles during IHSA sectional

ABOVE: The EPHS cheer team's athletic skills are put to the test during every performance, including this one at IHSA sectionals. "These athletes make it look easy but cheerleading is all endurance," says Coach Schoenbeck. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

What is your own background in cheer, either as a competitor or a coach?
My cheerleading career started when I was a sophomore in high school at Lane Tech. My best friend growing up, that I did gymnastics with, would always push me to try out and I finally did. BEST DECISION EVER. I continued on through high school to North Park University, where I cheered for four years. During college, I coached at a small private elementary school, St. Edwards, with both my high school and college coach. Shortly after student teaching, I began working at EPHS, and the stars aligned; I was given the opportunity to become the head coach.

I believe Natalie Bednarek is your assistant coach. What is her cheer background?
Natalie is currently earning her bachelor's in nursing at Dominican University. Natalie and I met cheerleading at Lane Tech. Natalie cheered at Lane Tech for four years. This is her first time coaching beyond her competitive days.

EPHS coaches Natalie Bednarek and Emily Schoenberg celebrate qualifying for state

ABOVE: As assistant coach Natalie Bednarek (left) lets the news sink in, head coach Emily Schoenbeck and sophomore Bella Corso celebrate the announcement that the EPHS cheer team has qualified for state. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).

The competitive team had only one senior this year (Anabel Ramirez). What are your thoughts about next year with so many experienced team members potentially coming back? Will the team be going to any camps during the summer?
This year was a “building” year for both myself and the team. I look forward to next year; the potential is outstanding and we are ready to work. Considering the experience these athletes have gained from this season, we can move past the basics and rise to the challenge of IHSA top 10. The team will continue to work this summer, attending a stunt camp at Cheer Destiny and a team camp in June, run by Natalie and I. We have many things to work on and time is limited.

According to the IHSA record books, this is only the sixth time an EPHS cheer team has qualified for state. No EPHS team has made it beyond prelims:

  • 2017 — 25th in prelims (medium)
  • 2014 — 21st in prelims (medium)
  • 2011 — 25th in prelims (medium)
  • 2007 — 18th in prelims (coed)
  • 2006 — 16th in prelims (coed)

How do you think the team can get beyond that first day?
We need to build our skills. The talent is there; just utilizing it is key. This team is still so young and they have a lot to learn. If we continue to progress the way we did this season, Day 2 is absolutely achievable.

ABOVE: The day the cheer team left for the IHSA state meet, the entire school turned out to say goodbye and wish them well. Go Tigers! (District 401 video recorded by Dave Porreca)

Photos: EPHS Cheer at Sectionals

NOTE: To view the following photos in a slideshow format, click any of the pictures below. Except where indicated, all photos are by Dave Porreca, District 401 web/media specialist.