Rockets aim for heights at contest for cheerleaders Arundel girls to compete in Fla. for spot on ESPN

March 12, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Two minutes, 15 seconds.

That's it. Just one tiny bobble by the Maryland Rockets at the 1997 National All Star Cheerleading Competition at Disney MGM Studios in Orlando and it could be all over. And so might be a shot at appearing on ESPN before millions.

A lot of pressure to put on a group of 25 girls in grades five through nine who come from all over Anne Arundel County to practice three times a week at Gymnastics Elite in an industrial park in Glen Burnie? A bad case of the nerves?

You bet.

After all, they will be competing against 25 teams from across the country for a big trophy to include in a case that is filling up with them. The top six teams at the Florida competition to make it to the finals will appear on tape on ESPN.

The Rockets will fly out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport early Friday morning for two days of competition in Florida. They also will visit the Magic Kingdom and another Walt Disney World theme park of their choice before returning to Maryland Tuesday.

"Everybody's really nervous. All the teams there are really good, like we are," said Stephanie Brooks, 14, a North County High School student.

Despite their nervousness, the Rockets believe in themselves. The girls, their coaches and parents all said so. And they're just going to tumble and tuck their best stuff in Orlando, the way they do during practice in Glen Burnie.

Despite what's at stake in Florida, the girls have to keep up with their studies. They must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to be a Rocket -- a coach said the girls have a 3.32 average -- and they study on the road with help from coaches.

The Rockets have taken first place in 10 of 13 competitions around the country since Tara Massaro and Lisa Frendlich formed the group in October as a means of exposing girls to more than the traditional "rah, rah, rah" cheerleader role.

"They have to be able to tumble and do back hand spins in order to be on the team. It's not just recreational. It's competitive," said Frendlich, 27, a physical education teacher at Annapolis Middle School.

Competitive cheerleading began in earnest about five years ago and is "the upcoming thing in cheerleading," said Frendlich, who was a cheerleader in 10th, 11th and 12th grades at the old Brooklyn Park High School, from which she graduated in 1987. She has coached cheerleading for about 10 years.

"Cheerleading has always been the role of support," she said. "You've always cheered the boys' basketball team or the girls' soccer team. They've always been there for the schools. These girls are focusing on their own athletic ability, their own talents."

Brooks knows how to focus before competitions.

"I talk to myself before saying, 'Yeah, everything's going to be all right.' But when the competition starts, I just clear my mind and do what I have to," she said.

Teammate Amanda Vardy, 11, a student at Chesapeake Bay Middle School, was just as confident.

"I'm just there to have fun," Vardy said. "I don't feel too much pressure. I just like what we're doing and can't wait to try out next year."

The Rockets landed a semifinalist spot in the Disney championship after taking first place in November at a regional competition at Atholton High School in Columbia.

Cheerleading is expensive: $1,400 per Rocket per season for travel and the red-white-and-blue uniforms.

"It's a lot of work and the girls are definitely going to give 100 percent of effort during that two minutes and 15 seconds. They will be exhausted when they come off the floor," Frendlich said.

For more information on the Rockets, call 590-FLIP.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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