Athletic departments for high schools and colleges are commonly seen as the front porch of any academic institution.
UCLA men’s basketball, Connecticut women’s basketball and Alabama football have become a trio of storied college programs, while De La Salle High, in California, has established itself as a force in football and New Jersey’s St. Anthony High School for its boys’ basketball program.
The same should be said of Blackman High School’s coed cheerleading program.
The Blaze have become a proven powerhouse when it comes to the local and national landscape of competitive cheer.
Earlier this month, they brought home their sixth National Championship in the past nine years in the small coed division. In November, they won their 11th TSSAA state title in the past 13 years.
This year’s National Championship team competed among a field 40.
Courtney Gregory, who along with Heather Wortman, coaches the Blaze team said the Murfreesboro community has been “supportive and wonderful” and, especially in recent years, “they have embraced the team.”
Cheerleading is almost a year-round sport.
Tryouts for next school year’s team will take place in late April with practice getting under way in May as the team prepares for the Blackman football season.
Like any other school, the cheerleaders support the athletic teams, and then in October, they begin cheer competition that are regulated by the Universal Cheerleading Association.
Those competitions will include events in the Nashville area; Knoxville; Memphis; Kentucky and Alabama.
According to Wortman, they usually compete a couple times in October and a couple more times in November, while the TSSAA state tournament is usually in December. Bid and invitations to the national event, in Orlando, Florida, are earned by performing well at the UCA regional events in the fall.
The small coed division allows up to four boys on the mat competing along with 16 girls.
The focus at Blackman is on all 26 members equally coming together as a team.
For this reason, Gregory and Wortman do not select team captains. They have pushed the “team concept” since the arrival of Gregory in 2004 and Wortman three years later in 2007.
The two met when Wortman’s husband Scott was coaching football at Blackman and mentioned his wife’s experience to Gregory.
“I ran outside and said, ‘Hello,’” recalled Gregory, of her introduction to Gregory.
As coaches they both said they “feed off of one another,” while Wortman is a detail-oriented taskmaster and Gregory sees the big picture — stunts, pyramids and grips.
“We’re a package deal,” Gregory said.
“We’re a team,” she said.
Gregory added: “I certainly couldn’t do it without her.”
Blackman qualified for nationals once prior to Wortman’s arrival, Gregory said, who explained it took both of them working together for the program to continue developing.
“We were ready to take those next big steps,” Gregory said.
They’ve created a program where the expectation of success is nothing less than a national title. Nowadays potential team members have grown up seeing the Blaze practice twice a week at Premier Athletics of Murfreesboro.
The team practices twice a week — Sundays and Mondays — at Premier and twice a week in the lobby area outside the gymnasium at Blackman High.
Former cheerleaders — many of whom coach and train at various gyms in the area — have prepared today’s and tomorrow’s cheerleaders to perform and compete the Blackman way.
“We don’t have to coach nearly as hard now,” said Gregory, with Wortman nodding in agreement.