For the first time in 34 years, you can call the Iowa School for the Deaf cheerleading team champions.
It’s been a whirlwind of a ride for seniors Brittany Adame and Kalista Nipper, who have led their teammates sophomore Ashley Vera-Nieto and freshman Rifenta Kisichy to the No. 1 ranking with the Great Plains Schools for the Deaf Cheerleading Championship, a conference of eight schools dedicated to the Deaf communities in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Brittany, Kalista, Ashley and Rifenta follow drum beats their co-coaches -- Megan Shama and Renca Dunn -- play to practice and perform their winning routines. They use a large drum that is shared among the Great Plains teams, especially during travel competitions.
“With the drum beat, oh my goodness, that is an essential part of our Deaf culture," Dunn told “Good Morning America.” “We feel the rhythm and the beat so strongly, so it's very important for us to include the drum.”
Dunn said the drum beats are comparable to the cheering one might find at basketball games and are crucial for team members.
“For a hearing person, when they're running down to court and they make a basket, you can hear people cheering and hollering and you get the idea like, ‘Go! Woo hoo!’ that kind of thing, so a hearing person knows. However, for a Deaf person, the people are playing on the court. You can see, yes, but how do you get that inclusive experience? You can't hear the cheers, right? Therefore, we feel the drumbeat and feel the rhythm,” Dunn explained.
“That rhythm … helps them to articulate their form, remember the chants and the cheers based on the beat that they feel from the drum is critical. It's vital for our team. It's part of our Deaf culture and it's part of their world,” Dunn added.
Although they’re only a team for four, smaller than the minimum 5 members the U.S. All Star Federation mandates for a small team, the young women haven’t let their team’s size prevent them from letting loose, trying new things and chasing their dreams.
“My favorite part of cheer is I get to dance. I get to have that movement and feel the music inside that beat and I feel all of that,” Brittany told “GMA.” “The feeling and collaborating with the music is my favorite part.”
And although they emerged on top at the Great Plains, it still came as a big surprise.
“When we were told that we got first place, it was a rush of emotions. I actually teared up. It was so exciting,” Rifenta said.
“I didn't think we would get first,” Kalista continued. “Of course, I knew that we would give our heart and soul into the performance and see what our potential was. When we actually won, we were all just shocked. We just were thinking back on all the hard work that we put in – to the two to three hour practices. It just really proved that our hard work paid off finally.”
Dunn called the achievement “a huge milestone, a historical milestone.”
“I think we'll remember that moment for the rest of our lives,” she added.
All four cheerleaders say they encourage other students to give cheerleading a try.
“I also encourage even some of the boys to join the cheer team,” Ashley said. “They can really help with the stunt parts and things but I do want to encourage all the other students to join the cheer team as well.”
“I'm sure it can be scary or intimidating, the trying out part, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kalista added. “So give it a try because you never know if you don't try and maybe it's a small team, it doesn't matter. With the potential, anything can happen.”
Editor's note: This was originally published on Mar. 15, 2023.