Cheerleading takes center stage

Sport: No longer relegated to halftime, cheerleaders are competing on their own.

Howard At Play

October 14, 2001|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"A lot of people don't understand cheering," says Sheena Superson.

The high school junior, who trains with and competes for a Howard County cheering organization, has been a cheerleader since second grade.

Most people, the 16-year-old Superson says, don't know how competitive -- and how athletic -- cheering can be. Sure, you'll see cheerleaders at football and basketball games, but you'll also see cheerleaders at cheer competitions, with no football players in sight.

FOR THE RECORD - An article last week incorrectly reported relationships between three youth cheerleading groups locally. Columbia Gymnastics owns the Cheer Galaxy All-Stars. Unrelated, the Howard County Youth Football and Cheerleading Association, which competes as the Trojans, and the umbrella Maryland Youth Football and Cheerleading Association are affiliates of the national Pop Warner youth football organization.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Superson cheered for Urbana High School in Frederick County the past two school years but is concentrating on competition this year.

"I love competing," she said. "I love that everyone in the crowd is there to watch you perform."

Superson competes for the Cheer Galaxy Stars, a competitive squad formed this spring and run by the Howard County Youth Football and Cheerleading Association, which uses Columbia Gymnastics' facilities as its headquarters. The Stars are girls from ninth through 12th grades; a junior team of ninth-graders and younger is known as Cheer Galaxy Odyssey.

The girls, coached by Randallstown's Pamela Carter, former cheerleading coach at Atholton High School, face an array of competitions into next spring sponsored by organizations such as Cheerleaders of America and AmeriCheer. Cheer Galaxy's first competition, a regional event sponsored by COA, is scheduled for Nov. 17 at Oakland Mills High School.

Carter, a one-time high school cheerleader and a former professional dancer in New York, formed the squads when her husband, football coach Fred Carter, founded the Howard County Trojans about 12 years ago.

Now president of the Maryland Football and Cheerleading Association, he wanted cheerleaders for his new team. One squad led to another, and now the association sponsors the Trojan cheerleaders as well as the separate, competitive squads.

The football cheerleaders get their chance to compete. At the end of every season, the girls take part in the Pop Warner Cheer Competition. For the past three years, at least one Trojans team has made it to national championships, and since 1990, at least one has advanced at least to the regional competition, Columbian Harriet Page said.

She and her husband, Ray, co-founded the Howard County Youth Football and Cheerleading Association, with the Carters.

One significant difference between team cheerleaders and competitive cheerleaders is that the football cheerleaders don't have to try out for the squad, Page said. Competitive cheerleaders do.

Trojan cheerleaders learn cheering basics so they can try out for high school teams; Page said 90 percent make those squads.

Becky Fansler is one of a number of girls who combine competitive and athletic cheering, even though athletic cheering is closer to her heart.

Fansler, 17, an Atholton High School senior, has been cheering since sixth grade.

The main attraction

She started at Laurel Boys and Girls Club, moved to the Trojans, then to Atholton's varsity; last year, she joined Cheer Galaxy.

"I really prefer competition," Fansler said. "When you cheer at a game, the game is the main point. At a competition, the main attraction is the cheerleading."

Fansler credits cheerleading with helping her overcome shyness.

"Now I love to perform and be in front of large groups of people," she said.

"Cheering brings so much to the girls," Carter said. "It not only gives them a healthy sense of self-esteem, it teaches them responsibility, commitment, how to get along with others, how to manage their time and how to take care of their health and their bodies."

Good coaching is an important part of the life lessons the girls learn, Carter said.

"Coaches can have such an important impact on the kids. The sky's the limit on what you can give to them."

Cheerleading has changed over the years, Carter said, to become a combination of aerobics, dance, gymnastics, even weightlifting.

"When I was cheering in school, gymnastics and dance didn't come into play the way they do now," she said.

Carter and her teams love to compete, but she said competition is more than just gathering trophies.

"It's about the relationships we have with each other," she said.

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