Three Cheers for the Champ

Ashley proudly displays the National Championship Medal she earned in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ashley proudly displays the National Championship Medal she earned in Atlanta, Georgia.

Presently walking the halls of the Morse school there are students who would rather be tumbling, cartwheeling and performing aerial stunts on the backs and shoulders of classmates. Yet, there is an unassuming individual who actually does these things in cities around the country on the weekends. Very few of her classmates know that she is a two-time national champion based upon her enthusiasm and acrobatics. Instead, they notice her smile and warm personality.
Fifth grader Ashley Lenz, recently flew back from Atlanta, Georgia with her second National Cheer Team Championship. Competing at Junior Level III against teams from across the United States and four countries, Lenz and her Albany, NY based Vipers cheer team won the Cheer Sport National Championship in early February. The two-day competition took place in four separate locations in Atlanta and featured more than 1,100 teams competing at different levels in front of 25,000 fans.
This is the second consecutive year Ashley has been part of a national championship. Last year, her Gym Stars team, based out of Saugerties, took the title at a competition in Disney World in Florida.
Since Kindergarten she has been working with the Gym Stars Cheer Competition Team and was forced to look for a new program when the Gym Stars coach left for a job in Connecticut. Ashley needed o continue her development. “My coach moved to CT. We didn’t have a cheer coach anymore. My instructor recommended Cheer Intensity,” she said.
“I used to dance when I was three. I like to do tumbling and more. My mom suggested I try cheer. I really love it,” said Ashley. She tried the Gym Stars program when she was in Kindergarten and has stuck with it ever since.
The move to a new program which included an hour drive each way was a challenge, but has worked out perfectly for Ashley. “I was kind of nervous. But a lot of people were nice to me and it turned out good. Now we have a really tight bond,” she said. There are about a half dozen local competitors who moved up to the Albany program. Transportation sometimes requires carpooling as Ashley and her family try to juggle two mandatory 2-1/2 practice and one 2 hour practice each week. With travel time, Ashley spends about 13 hours each week in training. Additionally, she travels to competitions in Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Buffalo, New York.
The training and travel have paid off for Ashley and her teammates. The National Cheer Team Championship is an extremely prestigious competition whereby the best programs in the nation perform. Winning this championship carries greater importance than the championship she had won a year earlier. “The first day of the competition we did really good, but I didn’t think we would win the championship. We watched the other teams and they looked better than us,” she said. “We were not thinking of first place at all.”

Ashley holds the most recent national championship banner she won in Buffalo, NY.

Ashley holds the most recent national championship banner she won in Buffalo, NY.

The teams performed a 2 and a half minute routine which they have been practicing for months and on the second day, the Vipers started to sense something special could happen. “The second day we did even better. We didn’t think we would get first, but felt like we would finish in the top three.” The team was very excited about their performance and knew their coaches were happy, too.
The tension and excitement built as the judges announced each team’s finish starting with the last place team. “As they got closer to first place and we hadn’t been called, it got more nerve-wracking,” Ashley recalled. “As it got to the top three, we thought we got second, but then they announced ‘Dallas, Texas,’ we got excited and we knew we were first. Everyone was excited and some were crying.”
Winning the National Championship earned Ashley and her medals, a commemorative jacket and a banner for their gym. Most importantly though, it gave the team an automatic berth in the super-prestigious competition at Disney World. This competition is far more selective than the one they won a year earlier. It is elite “invitation only” tournament.
Ashley’s family not only supports her, but is very much involved. Justine, her older sister, a former Morse student now in seventh grade competes, as well. Justine is in the next level up and last year was on Ashley’s Gym Stars Team. Her other sister, Bailey, who is in kindergarten also is a cheer team competitor. In fact, her team won a competition, as well. (Tiny Level)
Ashley’s mom Eileen, and dad TJ, work extra jobs to keep them involved in these activities. Dad works as a security officer for a local hospital and mom and dad own TJ’s Barns, specializing in outdoor structures such as barns, carports and play areas.
Ashley loves competing. Winning is very important, but she finds the byproducts of competition even more rewarding. “Some of my best memories are making new friends and having tight bonds with my team,” she said. “Of course I love winning, too. It is hard to win without a tight friendship with your team.”

Post script:
Yesterday, February 28 in Buffalo, NY Ashley and her Cheer Intensity team, The Vipers, won the American Majestic Cheer and Dance Team National Championship.