OF Bengals are State Cheer Champs!

OFHS Bengals Leave It All On Floor, Come Home Cheer State Champs

Watching the final seconds of the Oak Forest High School Bengals Varsity cheer squad's routine Saturday, Nikki Brankin saw it—tears in her daughter's eyes.

Maddie Brankin wasn't the only one—it was several girls on the 16-member squad. They'd been "perfect" in their round 2 routine of the IHSA Medium division state cheer finals, and they knew it.

"The girls know when they put it all out, they just know," Brankin said. "They knew they hit, and they knew they gave it their all."

The squad landed a score of 97.67, sealing the deal on the program's third state championship in the Medium Varsity division. Previous titles were in 2021 and 2016, with runner-up finishes in 2012, 2019, 2020 and 2022. Seven seniors on the squad—Maddie Brankin, Eva Campbell, Katie Everitt, Jessica Gron, Colleen McMaster, Madelyn Ozminkowski, and Teegan Straniero—became two-time state champions with the win in Bloomington Saturday, Feb. 4. Sophomores Anna Crotty, Lillian Everitt, Skylar Fannin, and Lexi Pepper, and juniors Janiya Brown, and Sarah Jensen, along with freshmen Brooklyn Kincade, Aubrie Kucinski, and Chloe Prim all nailed the routine, Brankin said.

Led by mother-daughter coaching duo Christine and Caitlin DiVenti—known as Coach D and Coach CC—with assistant coaches Denise Arenas and Brooke Eperjesi, the team went up against 25 teams in preliminaries Friday, finishing third in the top 10 and securing a spot in the finals.

"They came out on day 2 with a fierce confidence and hit their best routine of the season," Brankin said, as Coach DiVenti described to her.

Day 2 saw seven of the top 10 teams hit "perfect," deduction-free routines, Brankin said, which then brings final judging down to a few key factors.

"From there, it’s based on difficulty, execution and style," Brankin said.

The squad scored perfect 10's from all five officials for their motions, she said, based on the crispness, and definition.

They were all "in form, nobody was off."

It was the first year in five that the team was all-female, Brankin added, saying that in the past they've had male cheerleaders on the team. Coaches embraced the moment, putting a "GRL PWR" theme to the year, with lots of hot pink. They created a motto of, "Grit revives legacy, purpose wills results."

Oak Forest High School Principal Dr. Jane Dempsey lauded the girls in a school announcement Monday.

"Their routine, Girl Power, celebrates 50 years since Title IX gave equal access to girls sports," Dempsey said. "The routine is hard hitting and requires precision, athleticism and power."

Fans decked out in hot pink for the weekend, the girls also with matching pink bows in their hair.

The school sent fan buses to support the squad, Brankin said. It was such a different experience than the squad's last championship, won virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, without an audience.

The support and spirit in the arena were palpable.

"It was amazing to look around and see all the pink in the arena," Brankin said. "It was just heartwarming, it was amazing."

The squad returned home to a parade and well wishes from the school and classmates, with "Congratulations State Champions" spelled out in the fenceline near Oak Forest High School.

They'll also be recognized on upcoming senior night Feb. 10 during the varsity basketball game against Reavis, set for 6:30 p.m. The Oak Forest City Council will also recognize them during its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 14 at City Hall. The District 228 Board of Education will also honor their accomplishment at its Feb. 21 meeting, at 7 p.m. at Oak Forest High School.

Oak Forest finished ahead of Lemont, with its second-place score of 95.03, and Antioch, with a 92.23. Brankin said the squad and parents are still riding the emotional high.

"It was just a huge adrenaline rush, because the last time they did win the state championship, it was virtual," she said. "It was a completely different feel. ... Just knowing that they won—it was the culmination of everything."

Originally published in the 2/6/23 issue of the Oak Forest Patch. See the article HERE.

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