HANTS COUNTY, N.S. — Speak with any member of the Integrity Cheer Empire's Xclusive team and there's a good chance they're brimming with excitement.
And they have good reason to be.
The international co-ed level 5 cheer team set their sights on obtaining a bid to compete at the 2018 Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida, and they qualified during their first attempt.
“Their goal for this season was to achieve their bid at their first attempt, which they did,” said coach Chris Cunningham.
The team, which consists of athletes from throughout the Valley, Hants County, and HRM, is the first and only team from the Valley region to ever receive that bid.
Cunningham, who relocated to Berwick in 2017 and took on the role of all-star manager and director at Integrity Cheer Empire, couldn't be more pleased.
“It is super exciting for these kids because they tried for it last year,” said Cunningham.
“That's a real hit to the heart when you work that hard and you have a goal in mind and you don't get to pursue it because something gets in the way,” he said of the team's failed attempt last season.
Cunningham brought the experience they needed to be successful - before moving to Nova Scotia, he had spent the prior six seasons working with Power Cheer Toronto.
“This season, we just worked really hard, worked on their cardio, their strength training, their stunt techniques, their tumble techniques to get them to a place where they could actually be competitive,” he said.
And Cunningham is proud of how much they've accomplished.
“To be able to help this team get there makes me really proud for myself, but really proud of them,” he said.
“There's a lot of excitement. This team has competed very well all season and done a really good job of self-promotion. We also have a lot of backing in our province as well. People really want to see them succeed, which feels really good.”
The team is comprised of 22 athletes, three of which are alternates.
Fifteen-year-old Jalisa Beals, from Ellershouse, has been cheering for seven years. She's a flyer on the team and said she's excited to take in every moment of their upcoming trip.
“I'm excited to see all the different teams that will be there that I've never seen in person,” she said.
Beals likens the cheer team to one big family, and she can't wait to share the experience with her teammates.
“I love the support that everyone gives me at ICE and everyone is like a big family and it's just great to be able to go in the gym and know that everyone around you is supporting you,” she said.
Seventeen-year-old flyer Jenna Keizer travels to Windsor from Coldbrook to participate in the cheer squad. She's equally excited to compete at the world competition.
“I'm so excited. It's a huge deal, especially for around here. It's something that not many people get to experience. It's a crazy thought to even get to go,” she said.
Keizer said attending worlds has been a goal since she started cheering eight years ago.
“Cheerleading in Canada is not as huge as it is in the States and it's only recently become big around here. Especially in the Maritimes, you don't see a lot of people go down to the world championships,” said Keizer.
The Central Kings Rural High School student says she and her teammates have worked hard to get to where they are and she's proud of everyone.
Cunningham encourages anyone interested in getting involved with the Integrity Cheer Empire, which is located at 5 Sanford Dr., in Windsor, to contact him.
“We have teams for all levels, all ages, and all sorts of competitive streams and we would like to welcome more folks into our family for season nine,” said Cunningham.
To find out more about ICE and what teams are available, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To stay apprised of what the team is up to, follow them on Twitter (@ICE_allstars) or on Instagram (@integritycheerempire).