Young cheerleaders from the Palouse put on a winning show Saturday as teams competed in the Vandal Cheer Challenge at the University of Idaho Memorial Gym.

Proud parents braved driving through the winter weather to watch their children dance, cartwheel and somersault in front of judges at the regional competition. The event featured cheerleading teams from local schools and local clubs.

The Moscow-based Lightning Elite, a cheerleading club comprised of athletes ages 3 to 14-plus from around the Palouse, took home first place in the event. Mishalyn Miller won first in the elementary jumps, while Kenzie Kriebel won second in that category. Spencer Leeper won first and Artemis Young won second in the kindergarten and under division.

Moscow High School won the top prize in the pom, show and sideline categories. Moscow Middle School cheerleaders took first place in their age group’s sideline category.

Cindy Barnhart, Lightning Elite director, said the competitors are judged on their technique, skill level, jumps and tumbling. The schools who perform well will qualify for the state competition.

Lightning Elite cannot qualify for state, but it still participates in events like the Vandal Cheer Challenge three times a year because the athletes love to compete, Barnhart said.

“We want to win every single one,” Barnhart said.

Lydia Watson, Chloe Staab and Vanessa Klimko are members of Lightning Elite. Watson, an 11-year-old student at Kamiak Elementary in Pullman she and her teammates practice twice a week to prepare.

“We’ve worked really hard the last couple months,” she said.

Staab, a 9-year-old from Lewiston’s Camelot Elementary, and 9-year-old Klimko, from Potlatch, both said teamwork is an important part of their team’s success.

“Everyone is always working together,” Staab said.

Barnhart said cheerleading benefits young boys and girls by improving their brain development, which happens when athletes learn how to coordinate every part of their body in space.

While this can be said of all athletes, she said cheerleaders are special.

“I think cheerleaders are the smartest,” she said.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to

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