Team Tuesday: Arlington Heights Cheer Wins Two NCA National Championships

As Fort Worth ISD celebrates Women’s History Month, FWISD is honoring  those who made history in sports for the Team Tuesday theme. The Arlington Heights cheer team made history in January, bringing home its first and second NCA National Championships. 

Competitive cheerleading isn’t as simple as having the most spirit or smiling the widest. The attention to detail and skill level required to nail even a minute long routine takes months of preparation. That work was worth it for a FWISD cheer program that accomplished a goal it had spent years working towards.

The Arlington Heights High School cheer program brought home its first and second NCA National Championships in school history at NCA Nationals in January 2024. The Yellow Jackets’ won the 2024 NCA National Championship in the Medium COED Varsity Game Day and Small COED Varsity Game Day divisions. 

After finishing seventh in the UIL State competition earlier in January due to a dropped stunt, the Yellow Jackets had just two weeks to make adjustments and rebound to achieve the goal its 14 seniors had set for the program after coming close to winning an NCA National Championship two years ago. 

Senior flyer Lexi McGoodwin was part of the senior class that made it a mission to finish the job and win an NCA National Championship in 2024. “There was definitely a lot of nerves,” McGoodwin said. “Sophomore year we were very close to winning nationals. We got second place and it was practically the same team of girls that are on the team now. We had all said that we were going to come back and win nationals in two years.”

It could have been easy to get distracted from that goal with another major competition taking place just two weeks before NCA Nationals. 30 of the 36 girls on varsity competed in the UIL State Spirit Championship before the varsity group was split into two different teams to compete at NCA Nationals. Before the 2023-24 school year began, the girls formed a motto for the year that would guide them to winning championships in both NCA divisions they competed in.

“We started the beginning of the year making up a little saying ‘First Silver, Now Gold. We’re going to work for the win,’ and that’s exactly what we did,” said McGoodwin. “It feels so full-circle for me.” 

Despite the preparation and confidence from both teams, led by the seniors who experienced the heartbreak of falling short in 2022, both teams were disappointed with unusually low scores after the preliminary round. Ultimately, neither team allowed the nerves of the moment or the doubt from the low preliminary score creep in enough to impact the final performance, but that task wasn’t easy. Senior flyer Brooklyn Miller had to juggle the pressure of fulfilling her dream of winning an NCA National Championship, not letting her team down, hitting the routine, and not getting injured while doing it.

“I was really nervous. We heard our scores on day one and they weren’t that great,” Miller said. “I was really discouraged. I’m nervous about flying; everything was just really nerve racking. So, before the mat, I was just trying to calm myself down and be with my team.” 

There is real injury risk that comes with being a flyer. Getting dropped or being thrown too far can result in injuries that rank among the most painful in sports. It comes with a certain pressure that cheerleaders like Miller and McGoodwin have to deal with every time they take the mat.

“Every time I go up, [that pressure] is all I think about,” said Miller. “As a flyer, I would say that the pressure is worse because if you drop your stunt that’s immediately a loss, and it’s all on you. It’s really hard.”

Dropping a stunt is what caused Arlington Heights to place seventh in the UIL State Spirit competition. Arlington Heights only dropped one stunt, but that was enough to knock it all the way down to seventh place. 

Arlington Heights coach Kimberly Lopez wasn’t afraid to remind her team of the drop that cost it a shot at a UIL State Spirit championship. The team was back in the gym immediately after UIL to prepare for NCA, and Lopez knew she needed to challenge her team mentally and physically in order to celebrate a better result at NCA.

“When people first meet me they think I’m intimidating because I have extremely high expectations for them,” Lopez said. “I am always pushing them further than they think they can go. While they may hate me during the process, this year, they love me after the process.”

“I used their drop [at UIL] the next practice we had, two days after we competed we were back in the gym getting ready for NCA. I said ‘it may be too soon to say this but a drop will make you lose, and we learned that this past weekend.’ I am always transparent with them and I don’t sugarcoat anything. I believe in tough love, but I would do anything for these kids. They did everything I asked of them and more.” 

That tough love and attention to detail from Lopez resonated with the team and paid off in the end. On top of choreographing the routine, teaching it, coaching it and refining it every single day, Lopez also sought outside council from cheer contacts she has from judging all-star competitions. Senior base Emma Grace Garza noted that the outside coaching helped the team sharpen its routine.

“We go by an eight count knowing our motions,” Garza said. “We have to make sure that every single motion is insanely sharp. We had a coach come in and clean us. He would make us restart every single time we were not sharp. We would stop, do pushups and restart.”

“When [the judges] are scoring, they are looking at the sharpness of your motions,” said Garza. “They are looking at the exact details of the ripples, making sure everyone is in their spot when they are supposed to be.” 

The 2024 Yellow Jackets cheer program is immortalized in school history as the first to win an NCA National Championship. McGoodwin, Miller, Garza and Lopez are all incredibly proud to be part of the first cheer team to bring a national championship to Arlington Heights.

Brooklyn Miller described what she felt when Arlington Heights was announced as NCA National Champions. “My heart just immediately dropped,” Miller said. “I ran to my friends. I was crying. It was just joy and was a feeling that I have never really felt before. I was just really proud and happy.”

For coach Lopez, the win was a long time coming, and hopefully just the start of a run of greatness at Arlington Heights. “This is my 20th season coaching and it took me 20 years to get a national championship. I guess 20 is lucky because we brought home two championships,” Lopez said. “Next year we’re going back to UCA, so I am going to work them even harder than I did this year to hopefully bring home a white satin jacket.”

Fort Worth ISD congratulates the 2023-24 Arlington Heights varsity cheer team on winning two NCA National Championships and representing the district with pride! The district is proud of the Yellow Jackets and looks forward to watching Arlington Heights perform at the UIL State Spirit championships and UCA Nationals in 2025!