In it to win it


A rag-tag circle of giggling girls forms on the turf of the Westmont Yard.  A curly haired, doll-like teenager steps up, and although she is only inches taller than the others, her confident, commanding demeanor clearly sets her apart. Kayleigh Fikejs, sophomore, this tiny-framed girl, is in charge of the group of girls before her. She clears her throat, “Everyone, it’s time to start warm-ups,” and so the cheer practice begins. The girls finish their warm-ups, and the count starts, “five, six, seven, eight,” and they begin their routine in unison, arms and legs jutting and bending in all the right directions, like a machine programmed for this exact function.

All of this work is the result of long hours of practice, intense and taxing, on the coach’s part. Fikejs and the three others who are in charge of this team have dedicated their lives to this one moment, fast approaching, that will determine the success of their endeavor. As one flyer falls out of her mount, the stress of the situation sets in on Fikejs. She runs her petite fingers through her curly, dirty blonde hair and her face twists into a look of pure frustration. This only lasts for a moment, and she switches on a calm, patient expression for the benefit of her cheerleaders. A minute amount of anger slips into her voice as she improves the details of the performance that are proving more critical than they once thought. As always, Fikejs remains positive in front of the girls that look up to her as a role model.

Since the young age of nine, Fikejs has dedicated her life to cheer. She spends six hours a week, devoting all of her energy to this group of fourth grade girls. Her hard work is paying off, because after their clutch win at regionals this September, the fourth grade Falcons team is on their journey to state. Hinsdale Falcons has a long legacy of winning at the state competition, and for good reason; their winning cheerleaders come back to be successful coaches. Being a cheerleader has been a rewarding experience for Fikejs, and the lessons about trust and teamwork she wishes to bequeath to her team.

When she was just beginning her career, sticking with her team and her passion was easy, she got to keep doing what she loved. After four years, Fikejs decided to stop cheering and dedicate her time to coaching. Although it seemed like she became disenchanted with cheer, in reality had just rekindled the reason why it had been so important to her in the first place. “I love seeing how much fun they have, and I love how much fun I have with them,” Fikejs said.  After being inspired by her coaches, she wants to be that role model in her girls’ lives. So far, Fikejs has done her part in giving back and contributing to their success.

Their first meetings in August began the intense training for the season. The four teenage coaches, Fikejs, Eliza Gaber, sophomore, Alexa Brejcha, sophomore, and Gina Randel, senior, spent 15 hours developing the rountine. “We teach it in increments… we teach them a new thing each practice until they get it, and then we go over it,” Fikejs said. She turns her attention back to her team, and rushes up to a clump of girls, confused and frustrated, who are trying to figure out what to do next. Fikejs’s aura calms the girls, and in a matter of seconds she adjusts the girls’ form and teaches them to support one another in the stunt group, and all are ready to return to the task at hand. As she walks away, a few gazes can be caught as the girls gaze up at their coach, adoration plain on their faces, who is only a few years their elder. Their long hours of dedication paid off, as in September they won their competition, which puts them on the road to state.

There have been some complications on the road to “State,” which is the most coveted title in the world of cheer. With cheerleaders getting sick or injured, there are not many choices that a coach is left with when trying to perfect a routine. But, as always, the girls will have their annual curling party, exciting yet relaxing, and pull themselves together for a great performance.