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Zion-based youth cheer program completes long climb to the top

ZiMonday 12.10.12. North Shore Elite Cheer junior senior team members pose for phoMonday Dec. 10 2012  ZiCentral Middle School

Zion Monday 12.10.12. North Shore Elite Cheer junior and senior team members pose for a photo on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, at Zion Central Middle School in Zion. The junior and senior teams won state titles at a recent Illinois Recreation Cheerleading Association competition. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

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Jonathan Hadnott — NIYSO founder/president, asst. coach senior elite squad

Jennessa Lystlund — director of cheer programs

Clarisse Richardson — head coach senior elite squad

Angelique Hadnott — squad manager senior elite squad

Kelcy Belzer — head coach junior elite squad

Tamiya Ridgell — assistant cocah junior elite squad

Stephanie Graves — junior elite squad team mom

Rhiannon Urso — junior elite squad team mom

Senior Elite Cheerleaders

(8th Grade Division)

Areli Cantu

Zaryah Dixon

Kaesha Gavina

Juliana Garcia

Maija Hadnott

Peyton Hargett

Veniqua Johnson

Diamond Kidd

Samantha Kirk

Sarah Sobecki

Camryn Strathmann

Jade Williams

Kyara Willis

Alaina Withey

Kiara Yarbrough

Junior Elite Cheerleaders

(4th Grade Division)

Reagan Davis

Bianca Garcia

Jalayna Graves

Veneisha Loper

Katherine Mercado

Alondra Rodriguez

Jocelyn Soto

Bayleigh Tienhaara

Kayla Vines

Amanda Weide

Sienna Willis

Haylie Young

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Updated: February 16, 2013 2:30AM

Jonathan Hadnott is a man with a vision.

And what he “saw” in his mind several years ago became reality recently at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates.

That’s where/when the two age-group cheerleading squads that are run through Hadnott’s Northern Illinois Youth Sports Organization won state titles at the competition sanctioned by the Illinois Recreation Cheerleading Association.

These were the first state titles won by the cheerleading arm of the NIYSO, which is called North Shore Elite.

Squads competed in the eighth-grade division and in the fourth-grade division, and both brought home huge trophies and earned respect from cheer programs throughout the state.

North Shore Elite was established in 2010 as an offshoot of the NIYSO’s flag-football league.

It offers year-round cheer training for youth ages 5-14.

In 2011, there was one team of 15 girls that competed at the fifth-grade level and finished second at state. This year, there were 28 girls in the competitive cheer program.

Here’s what Hadnott — a Zion-Benton High School grad — had to say about the cheer program:

Q) How did the cheerleading program get started?

“A few years ago, when the economy started taking a downturn, I decided to launch my own organization, Northern Illinois Youth Sports.

“We started with NFL flag football. We drew about 80 people who wanted to participate. One of the things I saw was families worried about having to cut back and not allow their kids to play football.

“Most of the football programs around here are tackle and cost up to $300. I wanted to create an affordable alternative.

“From that, we saw a demand for cheer. So we added cheer for the girls. We thought we’d get 7-8 cheerleaders and ended up with about 60. The competitive program grew from that.”

Q) Where did the idea to grab some of the girls and form a competitive squad come from?

“When we started getting the girls out in the spring, people saw the interest in the program.

“The high school took notice of it and they started to partner with us. Linda Norman (the Zion-Benton High varsity cheerleading coach), saw there was a demand for it and so we launched our competitive program.

“We wanted to give the girls and the community something that they could be proud of, and something they could share in by making this the most quality, affordable program around.”

Q) Competitions, uniforms, etc. cost money. How do you keep the program affordable for families in the area?

“The biggest donors are myself and (director) Jennessa Lystlund. We’re in the early stages of our 501c3 (non-profit organization status).

“The whole purpose is to manage the costs to keep it affordable for families in this region. We did a couple of fund-raisers. We had a spaghetti dinner and sold spirit cups. The high school helped offset some of our costs by allowing us to use their facilities, and Zion Central Middle School partnered with us because they want something positive to come out of the community.”

Q) What are the requirements and commitments these girls and their families are asked to meet?

“We’re a competitive cheer program, but at the same time, we hold the girls accountable for their academics and their character. When we interview girls, we interview their family because we want to set ourselves apart from other organizations. We don’t turn anyone away, but we do a screening process where we give them alternatives. To compete with us on the competition teams, they have to go through a whole process starting with our academy in January.

“Then, they cheer in the spring. From that, we interview the families, inform them of the costs and the commitment, and select the girls. It’s not an easy commitment.”

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