Janet Wilde was watching her beloved University of Kentucky men’s basketball team when her 3-year-old daughter, Jillian, joined her.
Jillian seemed just as excited as Janet but for a different reason.
Jillian loved watching the cheerleaders.
“I instantly grew a love for cheerleading. I kept asking my mother when I could start cheering,” she said.
Jillian Wilde started cheering at age 6 in a month-long Hampden Recreation Department program and hasn’t stopped since.
In May, Jillian Wilde and her Element All-Stars cheerleading team based in Lewiston won the Summit D2 Level 4 national cheerleading competition in Orlando, Florida.
D2 means it is for teams from smaller gyms with 125 or fewer cheerleaders.
Approximately 70 teams were involved in the competition.
“It was pretty amazing to have a team from Maine win a (national) championship,” said Wilde, who is now 14 and just completed her freshman year at Hampden Academy.
Wilde is an important part of the team because she is a flyer.
The 5-foot-3, 107-pound Wilde spends much of her time in the air as her teammates flip her or hold her several feet above the ground.
“She has no fear,” her mother said. “She is a daredevil.”
Being a flyer can be dangerous, and Wilde has sustained two concussions in her young career, but she doesn’t give it a second thought.
“I love being in the air,” Wilde said. “I have fallen a bunch of times. But the main thing is you have to learn to trust your base. I don’t think about falling. I think about executing my skills. If I do that, nothing will go wrong.”
“There are risks, and if we thought she was (endangering herself) we would pull her out in a second,” her mother said.
Wilde loves the challenge of performing in front of a large crowd.
“I was so excited to get on the floor and be on the big stage in Florida. You go out and for 2½ minutes you get to show them what you’ve been working on. And you have to do it to the best of your ability,” she said. “It is a team sport, and you have to be able to do your part. One of my former coaches told me if you’re lazy and don’t put in the effort, other people won’t put in the effort, either.
“You have to put the effort into the whole thing in order for things to work out. It isn’t just about winning. It’s about preparing for a month and a half and going out and doing a perfect routine.”
“She is very athletically inclined. She understands how things work,” said University of Maine cheerleading coach Jewels Watson, who has known Wilde since she was 6 and is her current coach with the Big 10/Cheer Magic All-Stars Level 5 team based in Hermon.
“She is a perfectionist. She wants everything to be perfect and will work on it until it is,” Watson added. “She is one of those types of kids who you will tell what we need and she’ll do it, she’ll figure it out. You don’t have to worry about it. She is a very good flyer. And she’s very coachable.”
Wilde’s career has come full circle because she began with Big 10 during its formative stages when she was 7. It was located in Bangor at the time and Watson was one of the coaches while also cheering for UMaine.
But Watson noticed Wilde’s ability and intense desire. Since Big 10 was in its infancy, she suggested Wilde and her parents, Stephen and Janet, look into the more well-established Planet Cheer in Lewiston, now the Element All Stars.
“(Big 10) had new owners and was still developing. I had such a strong passion for cheering. I wanted more,” Wilde said.
So the family began a long relationship with the Element All Stars, driving 105 miles one way at least a couple of times a week so Jillian could practice and perform.
“We drove through some snowstorms that were like something out of Star Wars,” Janet Wilde said. “You want to do anything you can to help your child pursue their dreams. We are very proud of her. She has had to work and sacrifice her weekends when her friends were hanging out, because she was always away competing or practicing.”
Now that Big 10/CMA is much more established and has a facility in Hermon, and Jillian is going to be a sophomore at Hampden Academy, the decision was made to leave Element and return to Big 10 this spring.
“With all the schoolwork and the cheering, it was overwhelming. Keeping up with it was a really big struggle for me,” Wilde said. “And I was missing out on so high school events because I always had practice or homework.”
“It was hard leaving Element but I definitely feel Big 10 was a better choice,” added Wilde, who was on Hampden Academy’s cheerleading team this past winter and also cheered at football and basketball games.
To her credit, the travel and workload didn’t negatively affect Wilde’s studies. She finished her freshman season on the high honors list.
Wilde is tireless in her pursuit of cheerleading knowledge. She has been to clinics around the country and has met cheerleaders she has idolized like Maddie Gardner, a former University of North Carolina cheerleader who is now a TV news reporter.
“She has attended more clinics between the ages of 6 and 14 than I have in my life,” Watson said. “And they always have cheerleading on one of the TVs in their house.”
She now cheers at her highest level yet, level 5, where the ages of the cheerleaders on her team range from 14 to 31. Big 10 will have a number of competitions beginning in December to try to earn an invitation to the national championships in Orlando.
Her goal is to cheer at a Division I college, and the University of Kentucky is at the top of that list.
Wilde did expand her horizons this spring when she participated on the Hampden Academy track team, and her mother said she enjoyed one particular event.
Naturally, it was the pole vault.
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