By Thomas Grant Jr.
“Hot potato” is the best way to describe the recent championship history of South Carolina competitive cheer in Class 5A.
The annual state finals returns Saturday to Colonial Life Arena. It’s expected Lake Murray schools Lexington, River Bluff, Dutch Fork and Chapin will once again contend for the top prize.
It’s been that way since the classification’s creation in 2016. All four schools have either placed first or second with Dutch Fork, Chapin, and Lexington each hoisting up the championship trophy two or more times.
The last four years has seen the title trade hands between Lexington and Chapin. After back-to-back wins by the Lady Eagles in 2018 and 2019, the Lady Wildcats claimed their second Class 5A title in 2020 when the event was held at the Florence Civic Center.
Chapin regained the title in 2021 when the final returned to Colonial Life Arena. It was Lexington’s turn to win the title last year, while the Lady Eagles finished in third place behind River Bluff.
The Lady Eagles filed a protest two months later. Their contention was over a points deduction for performing over the allotted time allowed.
If not for the penalty, Chapin would have finished second ahead of the Lady Gators. Both the Executive Committee and Appellate Panel ruled to uphold the judge’s decision.
They will now look to unseat Lexington again for the top prize. Chapin took a step towards that goal by finishing first at the Class 5A qualifier held last Saturday at Irmo High School.
The Lady Eagles’ score of 333 points beat out second-place River Bluff (320.5) and third-place Lexington (316). St. James (303) and Dutch Fork (285) rounded out the top five.
“I would say they’re probably more focused in some ways,” Lexington head coach Leigh Watson said. “They’re just a completely different team, so it’s hard to compare. They’re a very special team. It’s the most talented group of athletes we’ve ever had at Lexington Cheerleading. They definitely know how to perform, and they know how to get the job done when the time comes.”
Blythewood and Spring Valley also qualified for the 16-team field. Other Midlands schools who qualified were defending Class 3A champion Gray Collegiate, Gilbert, Airport (which this year has cheer members from Brookland-Cayce) and Irmo.