Urbana resident Courtney Amanda Dickens, Divine Athletic Cheer founder, always tells people there are so many life skills kids can learn by being a part of competitive cheerleading.
“It creates coachable athletes, which is a good life skill,” she said. “You are going to have a boss when you get older and if your child is not coachable, that is going to cause issues (later in) life.”
Cheerleading differs from other sports because success relies heavily on each member of the team excelling in her role.
“Every athlete on our team has a specific job,” Dickens said. “For soccer or basketball or baseball, you have a bench of people that can fill in if they need to. Every single person on the team has a job, so the routine and competitions rely heavily on every single athlete doing their part. It teaches accountability, reliability, dedication—all of that.”
The all-star cheerleading program recently returned from The U.S. Finals Cheer and Dance national competition in Virginia Beach. Three out of their four teams competing placed in the top three. The Poms team, with athletes ranging from 10 to 12 years old, placed second. The junior team, Royalty, featuring middle school youth and high school freshmen, placed third, as did the senior team, Diamonds, with older high school-aged teens. The youth team Divas, which ranges in age from 7 to 11, also competed, placing 14th.
In their second time at nationals, Dickens noted the teams placed and scored higher. She hopes that those who participated take away from the experience the knowledge that “hard work and dedication can pay off.”
Dickens has been cheerleading competitively and recreationally her whole life, including two years at Urbana High School. She participated in a small all-star program for most of her cheer career. “The family feel (of the program) and how you had a personal relationship with your coaches and the program owner always kind of resonated with me,” she said.
When she started coaching at a couple of different programs, she did not get that family feel she was coveting. “I really wanted to create a program that was based off of that,” she said. “I think there are a lot of things that you can learn being part of a small program instead of (one focused on) just winning. There are other things that you can learn from the sport.”
Divine started in November 2017, and the division II program has grown every year. Featuring both half- and full-year teams with one to two practices a week, routines include tumbling, jumping, stunting and dance choreographed to music.
“We do really focus on a family feel,” Dickens said. “We like all of our athletes and all the parents to feel like part of our little family. We do events outside of cheering to (build) relationships with the girls and athletes. That is one of biggest things we pride ourselves on. They are not one of 200 kids. They are one of 50, and they are made to feel special and part of the program.”
She is driven to nurture the program because of her passion for the sport and helping kids to develop into the best cheer athletes they can be—but she’s equally driven to helping kids create relationships and skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. “The relationships in the community that we have through all-star cheerleading prepare you for life,” she said. “When you are in it, you have this huge support group of people who are in love with the same sport you are passionate about, and all the skills you learn from cheerleading help you be a successful adult.”