Since first picking up her pompons 12 years ago, Arundel High varsity cheerleader Kim Lewis has been involved in numerous pyramids. But it wasn't until recently that the junior from Gambrills reached the pinnacle in both the sport and the classroom.
Lewis, who was inducted into the National Honor Society last month with a 3.6 grade-point average, has been selected by the Universal Cheerleading Association to represent the United States in the Lord Mayor of Westminster New Year's Day Parade in London.
Lewis and her parents will depart for London on Wednesday for a week-long stay in the city that boasts such landmarks as Big Ben, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Although sightseeing will take up the majority of her time, Lewis and the other nine members of the U.S. squad also will be required to attend one practice session to prepare for the variety of cheers and dance steps they will perform in the nationally televised parade.
"We will only have one practice and the rest of the time we will either be sightseeing or performing," said Lewis, who was one of eight girls selected out of a group of nearly 400 that attended a cheerleading camp at the University of Maryland in College Park last August. "We've all been given a videotape of a dance that we are expected to learn and we're supposed to perform six or seven times throughout the parade."
Although Lewis was inducted into the NHS in her first year of eligibility, such was not the case in her bid for national cheerleading recognition.
"I tried out last year and wasn't selected," she said, "so this year I wasn't getting my hopes up too high. I think being there before really helped me, because I had a lot more confidence this year. I felt more comfortable in front of the judges."
The cheerleaders were judged on a variety of talents, including entrance, tumbling and jumps, a dance routine and a cheer. Lewis' cheerleading adviser at Arundel High, Stella Marvel, attributed the 16-year-old's selection to her creativity and vivacious personality.
"Kim is a gymnast and she is very intelligent," said Marvel, an English teacher at Arundel. "She knows how to handle the crowd and she is always in control. She listens well and comes up with a lot of ideas. She's very creative.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for her to see another country," Marvel added. "It's a fantastic experience for any high school junior."
Although organized cheerleading does not exist in Great Britain, Lewis is not concerned about how its citizens will receive the exhibition. What worries her most is the misconception many Americans have regarding cheerleading.
"I think cheerleading is just as much of a sport as anything else," said Lewis, who first started cheering for the Gambrills-Odenton Recreation Council. "We have injuries and our routines involve just as much danger as any other sport. We practice as much or more than any other team."
Marvel agreed and added, "If a player messes up in football or strikes out in baseball, nobody says a thing, but if a cheerleader makes a mistake, everyone lets her know it.
"People don't realize how much time these girls put in or the number of cheers that they have to learn. They don't realize how much practice is required for these girls to get in synchronization."
Marvel said she is excited to see the sport blossoming, but is a little concerned about its direction.
"The sport is becoming much more competitive, and that is good, but a lot of schools are forming squads strictly for competition, and I think that's wrong," she said. "I believe that a cheerleader's first purpose should be for the school. Competing is fine, but their first priority should be promoting school spirit."
The high-spirited Lewis said she enjoys cheering for football and basketball and that her squad gets more crowd response at football games.
While those fans may be more responsive, Lewis said she feels more pressure to perform well at basketball games because of the proximity to the crowd.
"You have to really watch what you're doing at a basketball game when they're that close to you," she said.
Lewis, who is considering cheerleading in college, said she wouldn't brush aside any cheerleading offers from a professional sports franchise, but instead would -- pardon the pun -- jump at the opportunity.
"I think it would be fun," she said.