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Atmosphere of champions: Local cheerleading team to compete nationally in Orlando

GPX All-Star Cheer Founder Alicia Shaffer poses in her gym lined with champion banners hard-earned by her cheer teams. (Ryan Lewallen/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — It started as a hobby nearly nine years ago; now it’s a place of steadfast dedication and disciplined hard work where Gillette girls can transform themselves into champions. 

A local cheerleading stronghold, GPX Cheer is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look, nestled behind Peregrine Global Services next to Foothills Theaters in a relatively unadorned, metal-sided building with little signage save for the logo stamped on the door and window. 

From the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like much. For the girls who walk through the door with a certain tenacity and a willingness to work hard, though, it’s a coveted gateway to becoming a cheerleading champion.

It didn’t become what it is overnight, according to GPX Cheer Founder Alicia Shaffer, who said her dream-business-turned-reality began as nothing more than a hobby that she kept on the backburner after starting it in 2015. 

Around that time, Shaffer was the cheerleading coach for Sage Valley Junior High School, and she would later coach at Thunder Basin High School. But even then, her upbringing in Indiana showed her that there was a definitive need that wasn’t being filled by school cheerleading programs. 

In her home state of Indiana, competitive all-star cheerleading is a well-established sport where girls work together to perform a routine of stunts, tumbling and dances. The focus, unlike high school cheer, is on the performance and competition itself, rather than cheering on a sports team, Shaffer said. 

She set out to put Gillette on the all-star cheerleading map, spending her time gathering experience by coaching gymnastics in addition to her professional cheerleading efforts. When she quit coaching for Thunder Basin, her business started to blossom and Shaffer moved her company into its building with four teams comprised of cheerleaders as young as 3 and up to age 16. 

Now, a year after moving in, trophy banners line the walls, so many that GPX Cheer may soon have to find creative ways to display the spoils hard-won at regional all-star cheerleading competitions. 

It’s almost like clockwork: One of Shaffer’s teams departs for a competition, and it usually returns with a champion banner in tow, ready to be hung on the gym walls. But in 2023, her teams brought home something extraordinary — two grand championship all-star Prep Division titles and a bid for the All-Star World Competition in Orlando, Florida. 

Up to this point, Shaffer’s teams have been competing against other teams in the surrounding area, and a few from Texas. 

“When we go to Orlando, it’ll be against everyone around the United States who have received these bids,” Shaffer said. “You could say the best of the best. We’re really excited about that; this will be our first year doing that.”

But it’s not just about the competitions, the banners or the recognition. GPX Cheer is also teaching the girls who walk through the doors valuable life lessons and opening doors to other opportunities further down the road — like college scholarships. 

Shaffer believes anyone can be a cheerleader, but it takes discipline and a willingness to work hard as a team, especially at her gym where they seek to instill confidence in her cheerleaders and establish the qualities of being a positive person. 

“You come here, you work hard, you’re friends with everyone on the mat no matter what and you leave your problems at the door and have fun,” she said. “We just create this atmosphere. I tell them we’re creating an atmosphere of champions.”

She said there could be a billion things going on in your head, but to be a cheerleader you have to be willing to put in 110% effort all the time and you have to focus on what you’re doing currently, whatever skill that happens to be. She added that those qualities do trickle on to life. 

To say GPX Cheer has exceeded Shaffer’s expectations would be an understatement, and she has no plan to slow down having finally assembled teams of dedicated girls who understand the rigors and discipline of cheerleading and are willing to be there, day in and day out, to practice. 

Her team travels to Florida in April, where they plan to find out how they stack up against teams from across the country.

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