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Cheer captain lands on feet through competition and life's tumbles

UPDATE: State Large Co-Ed competition set for 6 p.m., Jan. 30 at Union

Whether it is hitting a tumbling pass on the cheer floor or getting tumbled by life’s setbacks, Joel Jones has proven he will land on his feet.

“He’s an incredible tumbler,” said Broken Arrow Tigers varsity cheer coach Kyrstin Delehanty about the senior Jones, who cheered for the first time last year.

Delehanty has made Jones’ tumbling skills a focus of this year’s competitive routine in hopes that the Tigers can win its seventh Sate Cheer Performance championship and first since 2016.

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has canceled this year’s regional, which was originally scheduled for Saturday at Bixby High School. Broken Arrow will compete in Large Co-Ed Division at 6 p.m. in the state competition on Jan. 30 at Union High School. Time for that division’s competition has yet to be announced

“The more tumbling you have the better,” Delehanty noted. “He does a pass down the diagonal where he throws full-punch-full-punch-full, which is very hard on dead mat. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do it, honestly.”

Jones’ acrobatics on the mat impressed Delehanty nearly as much as the way he handled the twists that put upheaval in his home life a few months ago.

Jones’ mother, a single mom, became sick last spring. Her illness resulted in exorbitant medical bills and loss of work. The struggling times cost the family their home. Six of Jones’ family members, including mother and siblings, lived in a hotel room for two months, before his mother could recuperate and begin working again.

“When I heard this summer about everything going on with him, I wanted to know what we could do to help,” Delehanty said. “He’s one of the best kids I know. The fact that he had to go through that just pulled at my heart. I was doing anything I could to help him out.”

Through it all, most of Jones’ teammates were unaware of the incident that befell his family life.

“It was really hard,” he said. “I was a little lost. I honestly was so scared to even talk to the team. I was working to make them happy. I was just thinking that I’m not that important to be crying over this. It happens. I hid it away.”

Delehanty and Jones both believe the number of cheer members aware of Jones’ difficulties is small.  

“There’s not a person out there who would have said, ‘Hey, Joel’s going through something,’” Delehanty said. “He didn’t show it. It’s been incredible to watch him push through what he’s been through. He’s been so strong.”

By watching him in cheer practice, it’s easy to recognize that determination is a powerful component of Jones’ DNA. That quality was enhanced and displayed during a time that would challenge an adult’s fortitude, let alone that of a teenager.

Jones was instrumental, along with his grandmother, in caring for his younger siblings, which included a two- and three-year-old.

“I felt like I had to step up,” the understated Jones said. “Just seeing that my mom was struggling was a wake-up call to me. My mom was really struggling with work and being sick.”

The valor he showed in caring for his family extends to his “second family” – BAHS Varsity Cheer.

“My motive for cheer has always been to come in and work hard,” he said. “When I come in here, everything is left at the door. There is no need to bring it. Cheer is a good distraction.”

But it is more than a distraction for a kid who started tumbling classes while in kindergarten and, who after just one season of cheer, was named a captain.

“He’s just an easy person to get along with, but he’s also really straight forward,” Delehanty said. “He’s not going to sugar coat something for you, but he tells you in a way that isn’t going to make you mad and make you hate him.

“Everybody knows he wants the best for this team and that he is here for this team. He’s not doing it for himself. He’s a good leader.”

The power tumbler, who was hesitant to join the cheer team, is now focused on working with teammates to capture a state championship. Regional champions a year ago, the Tigers fell short of nabbing the state crown in January of 2020.

“We just came in a little too confident,” Jones said looking back at last season. “I think we’re aware now that we just can’t be like ‘hey, we just won regionals, so now we can chill out and not work as hard.’”