CHALMERS — Any first-time venture usually involves some growing pains. It’s a natural process. With practice and patience comes experience.

Throw that out the window when talking about Frontier Junior/Senior High School’s competitive cheer team.

The Falcons, in their inaugural season, will be competing Saturday for a Varsity Class D Indiana Cheer Championship at New Castle High School. Doors open at 9:15 a.m. Saturday and the competition begins at 10 a.m.

The morning session will feature 23 teams in Time-Out division state finals, followed by 37 Varsity division teams in the afternoon championships.

Frontier will perform at 2:42 p.m. Saturday. Other teams in Class D include Clinton Central Jr./Sr., Illiana Christian, Knightstown Community, Our Lady of Providence, Shenandoah and Union County high schools.

Last year, Knightstown won the championship and Our Lady of Providence was runner-up. Union County finished third in 2017.

The Frontier team is coached by Katie Runk, a Knightstown graduate in her fourth year as coach of the Falcons. It’s because of her experience at Knightstown that drove her to start a program in White County.

“(The Knightstown) cheer program has been thriving for the past 20 years with many state titles — one of which I received my freshman year,” she said. “So coming to the White County area, I soon realized their cheer program had lots of potential and I was immediately interested in building a successful program at Frontier.”

But there were minor, but costly, obstacles, such as a lack of “legal” cheer mats. The team conducted fundraisers and collected $7,000 to purchase new mats.

“That was a huge success and a great feeling,” Runk said.

She said the team tried to compete last year, but a couple of injuries limited the squad to one competition that ended their season much too early.

In 2018, it’s a much different story. Runk said the girls began working toward establishing a competitive season since June.

“This group of girls is amazing inside and out … and these girls give it all they have,” she said. “We have practiced a lot. There have been lots of tears, blood and sweat along the way and their growth is incredible.

“They have been stretched beyond what they thought they were capable of.”

Team members include senior Makayla Schroeder; juniors Lauren Bower and Mallory Culver; sophomores Maizie Ade, Cierra Harner and Courtney Keith; and freshmen Nakea Fields, Makenzie Schroeder and Maddison Stout.

To prepare for the season, Runk brought in a pair of experienced choreographers — Adriana Caceres and Jacob Forman — to help with stunts and routines during their summer practices.

Forman is a member of the Purdue University spirit team, which won a Division I Small Co-ed national championship in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year. Caceres has performed with Forman at ICE All-Stars and Hollywood All-Stars competitions.

“(Caceres and Forman) have continued to volunteer their help every step of the way because of the potential they see in these young athletes,” Runk said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”

Runk said Caceres and Forman have stayed on as choreography coaches.

The Frontier cheer squad competed in four invitationals this season, placing second in Wawasee, Eastern Hancock and Purdue, and third at Clinton Central.

With that experience, Runk said the cheer team knew what it had to do at last week’s Indiana Cheer Championship varsity preliminaries at Greenfield Central High School.

“The girls performed a flawless routine with zero deductions and pulled it off,” she said. “We advanced in the top seven Varsity D (1A and 2A schools).”

Runk said the school and community have contributed to the team’s success.

“With this being our very first year competing a full season, go to prelims, and come out state finalists, it is an amazing accomplishment,” she said.

Runk said her team has learned not only how to be successful, but how to work together as a team.

“It’s about … being a part of something positive, so to be their mentor and role model is my favorite job of all,” she said. “They have made me one happy coach.”

Runk and assistant coach Katie Schroeder plan to make the state finals an annual venture.

“I look forward to many more years as state finalists,” Runk said.

Michael Johnson is editor of the Herald Journal.