Cheerleaders leap into action at regional championships

Competition draws more than 100 squads

January 13, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Tara Markey, 13, and her Emmorton Recreation cheerleading teammates waited to perform yesterday at Baltimore Arena, their glittery pompoms clutched close as coach Erin Herbert slipped through the knot of girls, giving each a good-luck kiss on the cheek.

The Harford County 12-and- under team was moments from performing at the 11th Atlantic Cheer and Dance Championships. Asked how she was feeling, Tara let her voice rise like a cheer: "Confident that we're going to get it!"

They did - they took regional first place in their division.

By 8 a.m. yesterday, booming music and 107 cheerleading teams from Maryland and surrounding states were rocking the arena. Preschoolers to college students streamed into the facility with parents, boyfriends, makeup bags and bedroom slippers to wait for their team's 4-minute performance in the daylong schedule.

Most sported ringlets pulled back in ponytails adorned with bright ribbons and protected till show time with bandannas or handmade drawstring caps.

Event organizers put the crowd at more than 4,000. The teams were split into four divisions: recreation, school, open/college, and all-star (competition club teams). For some, this contest was the sixth or seventh since fall.

Cheerleading is a billion-dollar business, said Serena Andrews, a former longtime cheerleader and president of Atlantic Cheer and Dance. Competition is keen for the cash prizes and college scholarships.

"Since the competitions started, the jell of the teams, being friends with each other, has really diminished," said Andrews, who arrived at 3 a.m. to set up for the event and - as cheerleading coach for the Baltimore Blast - planned to be there late into the evening.

Jim Ward waited patiently to watch daughters Tiffany, 8, and Courtney, 12. They cheer with the Twisters, an all-star group from Glen Burnie with 220 kids in several divisions.

"It's a lot of work," Ward said. "Every weekend, just about."

The investment involves more than just time. A uniform might cost $300, while competition entry fees range from less than $20 to several hundred dollars. Ward figures that he's shelling out at least $1,700 a year per daughter.

The Twisters arrived at the event in style yesterday - in 22 rented limousines, a Christmas gift from Ron Levee and Joan Vardy, owners of the team.

"It was the first time I was ever in a limo. It was very exciting," said Twisters member Flea Hough, 13.

As the morning waned, winners for the school and recreation divisions drew applause - the loudest of which came from a small group of parents from Stembridge Recreation in Essex. Its 10-and-under team swept the regional, state and grand champion categories.

"We are the best," said parent Kathi Peterson, wiping under her eyes and laughing. "We are the champions, again and again. I just want to go give them all a hug."

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