She could have just been happy that her Yokota cheer team captured top Far East Division II team honors, or that her Panthers placed five cheerleaders, including herself, on the All-Far East team.
But junior Malia Hutchins said she was happiest that DODEA-Pacific’s Far East cheerleading championships were held in person for the first time since 2019.
“I think making it in person made it better and it was so cool,” Hutchins said. Far East cheer was canceled after one day Feb. 20, 2020, and was conducted virtually, by video submissions, the last two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been doing this since it was virtual, so it being in person made it real,” Hutchins said. “It was such an experience that I didn’t expect. From meeting all these amazing girls and having their support just felt surreal.”
The return to in-person competition “was exciting to see (the teams) execute their performances,” Yokota coach Debbie Tomas said. “Everyone did so well.”
It was all Panthers all the time as Far East cheer returned from those three years on the shelf. The Far East was held at its longstanding home, Matthew C. Perry High School.
The competition was held Feb. 1 and sent by video to a panel of judges in the States. The results were released by meet organizers to Stars and Stripes on Friday.
In addition to Yokota taking the D-II title, Kadena took top spot in Division I for the ninth time in school history and the second time in three years. Kadena missed the competition last year when several of its cheerleaders came down with COVID.
“My group of girls are absolutely amazing,” Kadena coach Kevina Harris said. “They worked so hard over six weeks with two- to four-hour practices. Always giving it their all.”
Kadena placed four cheerleaders on the All-Far East team: Julia Petruff, Jamilla Reese, Addison Schanz and Madison Shaw. Reese also took the top jumps award and Sophia Garcia, Reese, Shaw, Mylie Pena and Layla Vickers won the top all-girls stunt award.
Petruff, her sister Jessica, Shaw and Pena earned a combined seven ribbons for recognition from other coaches for leadership skill and sportsmanlike conduct – “most ribbons for any school,” Harris said.
Hutchins was joined on the All-Far East team by her Panther teammates Trinity Stegall, Rocco Overton, Sara Brought and Aimi Burns.
“Super proud of all my cheerleaders,” Tomas said. “They put in the work and are super dedicated to each other. They are the true definition of a team.”
Tomas was coaching Robert D. Edgren when it won its Pacific-record 11th D-II team title two years ago. She transferred to Yokota following the 2020-21 school year and took over the Panthers cheer team.
“I didn’t think of it that way, but I love it!” Tomas said.
Tomas also has a former connection to the D-I champions; she coached Kadena before she and her family transferred to Edgren five years ago. “They (Kadena) brought it to the mat and executed their routine,” Tomas said. “They looked great.”
It's been a winter of multiple championships for the Tomas family. Her son Dylan, a senior, and the Panthers boys basketball team won their first Far East D-II title in seven years and Tomas was named to the D-II All-Far East team.
“We (cheer) watched and cheered the boys on via live stream” on the Yokota team bus en route home from Iwakuni, Debbie Tomas said.
DODEA-Pacific Far East Cheerleading
Kadena 181½, Kubasaki 170, Nile C. Kinnick 141½
Yokota 172, Zama 167½, Osan 166½, Daegu 159½, Matthew C. Perry 144, Robert D. Edgren 130, E.J. King 101
All-Far East team
Robert D. Edgren: Alana Refugio, Pamela Munoz, Gwyneth O’Connell, Alyssa Lorenzo; E.J. King: Calista Herrero; Matthew C. Perry: Zainab Noor; Kadena: Madilyn Shaw, Addison Schanz, Jamila Reese, Julia Petruff; Kubasaki: Erika Samluk, Mary Shell, Kaitlyn Williams; Osan: Alexis Jeffries; Yokota: Rocco Overton, Trinity Stegall, Sara Brough, Malia Hutchins, Aimi Burns; Zama: Rory Legg.
Top tumbler — Samluk.
Top jumps — Reese.
Top all-girls stunt — Kadena: Reese, Shaw, Sophia Garcia, Mylie Pena, Layla Vickers.
Matthew C. Perry student-journalist Raven Rayos contributed to this report.