Sioux Valley’s dynasty grows with competitive cheer in South Dakota

TOP: The Sioux Valley competitive cheer team poses for a team picture after winning the Class A competitive cheer championship at the SDHSAA State Competitive Cheer and Dance Meet at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls last month. The win helped the Cossacks set a state record for all sports with their 17th consecutive state championship. BOTTOM: The Sioux Valley competitive cheer team performs their routine during a competition at the Cossack Center in Volga on Sept. 21. The Cossacks have been the top team in Class B since competitive cheer became a sanctioned sport in 2007. (Top: South Dakota Public Broadcasting///Bottom: Andrew Holtan/Brookings Register)

VOLGA — In any sport, there is a school that can go on a sustained run of dominance. But in South Dakota, no program has been as successful as the Sioux Valley competitive cheer program.

The Cossacks won their 17th straight Class A competitive cheer title last month, surpassing the Madison gymnastics team for the most consecutive state titles in South Dakota high school sports history. Several factors have sparked the run of dominance but is even more impressive considering the growth of the sport and where it could go in the future.

Casie King has led the Cossacks since the South Dakota High School Athletics Association adopted competitive cheer as a sanctioned sport in 2007. Before that, King was part of the cheer program in her hometown of Faulkton and competed in several events run by the South Dakota Coaches Association before becoming a volunteer coach with the Sioux Valley dance program.

“It was very different,” King recalled. “The rules were very different and the scoresheet was quite a bit different than when we started in 2007.”

Among the rules were how much judges grade the sport based on skill and subjectiveness. When King was competing, she estimated that the scorecard was based 70 percent on subjectiveness and 30 percent on skill. But now she believes that has flipped with judges placing more of an emphasis on skill as opposed to their subjectiveness.

The scorecard can be confusing to parents whose kids are just taking to the sport but King believes a big reason for the Cossacks’ success is their ability to explain what the judges are looking for and how it impacts a routine.

“We explain the scoresheet and how things are scored or deducted,” King said. “Often times we’ll post the score sheets after a competition and the parents will ask a question about what was illegal or what happened. …I think that learning that score sheet and how those skills are judged would be a huge advocate for our sport because the more you know about it, the more interesting it is.”

That difference is something that distinguishes competitive cheer from what you would see at a football or basketball game. While there are skills involved in sideline cheer, competitive cheer blends several different disciplines that create a different challenge for its athletes.

“We focus way more on the athletic side of it,” King explained. “Sideline cheer has its place during a football game and it’s very fun to watch. But what we do is focus way more on the skill. So the tumbling and stunting are way more athletic than people would think. People are surprised by the amount of dedication it takes just to prepare for the sport and how strong these athletes need to be.”

The skillset needed to accomplish a successful routine has also changed with the development of athletes. While the requirements were different when the sport began, the last five to 10 years have seen a significant amount of growth, raising the bar for all teams involved.

“It’s not even comparable to what we did back in the day,” King said. “The amount of skills that we have on the floor compared to just five years ago has just increased so much. Things that used to win you championships five to 10 years ago wouldn’t even score well anymore. They want athletes to do more and more every year and rise to the occasion but…athletes are developing their skill outside of their season and working on becoming a better athlete which enables all of our teams to be better and do more.”

The demands of the sport as well as its growth to 40 programs over two classes in South Dakota paints a bright future but it won’t come without some effort. King believes that more education will be needed among coaches, especially in rural areas where gymnastics programs are being cut throughout the state.

“If you’re from a small town in South Dakota, you may have never seen any sort of tumbling or have training for that,” King explained. “To get that training and count everybody properly [and be] able to teach skills…coaches really have to be responsible for their own education on that.”

The Cossacks have been able to build their education system while also promoting a family atmosphere. It’s something that has seen two of King’s daughters, Kalista (2022) and Kiana (2023) graduate through the program and a third, Kalia currently participating as a sophomore with the Cossacks.

King’s daughters are an example of many who have been through the program and have kept a connection with it even after they graduate.

“I really like the relationships with the kids,” King said. “A lot of times we have kids come out in the seventh or eighth grade and they cheer for us with five or six years then stay part of the tradition of Sioux Valley cheerleading. It’s kind of a big family with that and it’s a huge part of why I’ve stuck with coaching for so long. I really enjoy being with the kids.”

Those relationships are also why King has plans to continue coaching the Cossacks as long as she can even when Kalia graduates.

“I keep telling [Kalia] that I’m not going to be done after her senior year,” King said. “I want to make sure to keep coaching past that. …I don’t know it will be hard to ever be done, honestly.”

It paints a bright future for the Cossacks, who will be hanging another banner in the Cossack Center in the coming months. While the streak is there, the Cossacks don’t really think about it as much as they do perfecting their craft.

“I think a lot of times the streak comes from outside pressure,” King said. “We always want to do well and be the best we can be, so we focus on each individual whether it’s a competition or a state tournament. We’re focusing on that and I would say our athletes have really done a good job of staying motivated to be on top. Obviously, we want to win and it’s a perk of winning to have that legacy but it’s not really in our day-to-day in how we practice and build our culture. It’s more about being the best we can be in the moment.”