The GCS Impact Mini squad won first place at FCC Nationals.

The Grace Christian School (GCS) cheerleading program had an exceptional year. Three of the school’s squads competed and placed at the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders (FCC) Nationals in Orlando on January 1-2.

The Impact Mini squad (K-2nd grade) competed at FCC Nationals for the first time ever, winning first place, and the Varsity team took home first place as well. The Elementary Impact squad finished in third place.

The Impact Mini squad is led by Head Coach Ruth Scott. The cheerleaders include Khaleesi Newton, Shaylen Lowman, Scarlett Letourneau and Savannah Symonds. Scott’s daughter, Audrey, who is on the Elementary Impact team, took home first place in the individual competition at nationals as well.

Scott believes that her team was able to focus, execute and have success because they started each practice with devotional time, reading Scripture and relating it to their daily lives. It helped keep things in perspective for them.

“The theme this year was learning how to be a champion,” said Scott. “Everything that we do, as long as we give God the glory, as long as we do it to honor Him, then honor will come to us. ‘Can’t’ was not in our vocabulary, the girls kept telling themselves that ‘I can and I will.’”

The three GCS teams competed in two tournaments this season, first in regionals in November. The regional competition was hosted for the first time ever by Grace Christian School due to COVID-19. The Minis won first place, Elementary won second place and Varsity won first place.

The Varsity team has had a lot of success over the years, and this year was no different. They took home first place at the FCC Nationals again. The team is led by Head Coach Ronda Opalka. The roster of cheerleaders includes senior Taylor Opalka, junior Adriana Valdez, freshman Gracie Gurrea, eighth grader Lexie Pennell, eighth grader Kristin Johnson and seventh grader Adrienne Campbell.

Ronda said that her team bonded well this season as a sisterhood, having a safe atmosphere to have open dialect in a positive way with constructive feedback so that the team could be the best that it could be. The team would pray together in mid-practice if things weren’t going well.

“I’m proud of this team,” said Ronda. “What an amazing job and accomplishment that they had to pull together with several inexperienced girls and several major setbacks. The girls just did a tremendous job pulling through.”

Team captain Taylor Opalka was the only senior on Varsity. She was also an assistant coach, helping out Scott and her Mini team. During her time at GCS, she won four FCC National titles and a regional title. Taylor was also an FCC Scholar Recipient and was recognized at FCC Nationals for doing community service and being an excellent student-athlete. She is the second cheerleader at GCS to win the award. Scott nominated Taylor for her hard work.

“It was a great way to end my senior year as a cheerleader,” said Taylor. “It meant a lot having everyone come together, winning as a team, not just individuals. It was an overwhelming feeling of joy.”

Taylor plans on going to Empire Beauty School to become a cosmetologist and hairdresser after she graduates from GCS. She also has a passion for coaching, and has expressed a desire to help out as an assistant varsity coach at GCS next season.

Although the cheerleading teams don’t have another competition this season, the Varsity team will cheer on the sidelines for the school’s basketball games. Ronda has plans to hold tryouts in early May, with her newly formed team participating in summer camp as well. Her hopes and goals are that her squad can win regionals and nationals again next season, as well as expanding her team.

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Nick Nahas
Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.