Group gets something to cheer about

AT PLAY

County recreation and parks department sponsors youth cheerleading association

March 29, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As Anne Arundel County's recreation and parks director for 7 1/2 years, Dennis Callahan says he's become a fan of the cheerleaders who attend numerous recreation events. But he says it's bothered him that while the parents always watched intently, many others didn't seem to pay attention.

"I thought it was just about time that we recognize these athletes for what they are - athletes," Callahan said.

Callahan pushed for the county Recreation and Parks Department to categorize cheerleading as a sport, and he was a driving force of the partnership between the county and the Anne Arundel Youth Cheerleading Association. The two sides talked about coming together for a while before completing an arrangement in December, something that should benefit the cheerleading association.

The partnership will help the association in several ways. The organization sponsors a major countywide cheerleading competition that takes place in November at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. About 1,000 cheerleaders attended last year.

The county will pay the rent for this year's county competition in November, as well as pay for trophies. In addition, the county is going to pay the rent when the cheerleading association expands to a second countywide event next year. It will also let the group register its cheerleading squads through the county Recreation and Parks Department, relieving administrative pressure.

"They now have all the rights and privileges of any other sport in the county," said Callahan, who will step down May 30 to run for Anne Arundel county executive. "This is carved in stone."

At present, there are nine member organizations in the association: Cape St. Claire Cougars, Chesapeake Bay Piranhas, Crofton Cardinals, Edgewater Blue Devils, GORC Wildcats, Rivera Beach Buccaneers, the Southern Athletic Association, Severn Seminoles and South River Gators.

About 20 groups in the county sponsor cheerleading, along with some smaller ones that don't have football or other programs to cheer.

Anne Arundel Youth Cheerleading Association now cheers during the fall and winter. The fall season runs from July through August; the winter season runs from December through the spring. Association officials expect the program to be busier in the spring, with a new tournament to boot.

Cheerleading association President Kerry Gibson, who has worked with the group for several years, said she's looking forward to seeing how her organization and the county agency work together.

"It's something that's been in the works for a while," Gibson said. "Dennis pretty much made it happen. This will help us grow even more, and that's going to be awesome for us."

Callahan agreed. "They're finally going to be getting their overdue recognition."

Gibson said that others also have been a big help in making the partnership a reality. She credited Joan Peacock and Cathy Davis, the association's secretary and treasurer, respectively, as well as Jacque Hurman, the county recreation and parks liaison, and Sue Hamilton, also from the county, with easing the transition.

"It is going to give us more resources to do more with the [county] competition," Gibson said. "They'll be able to help [us] ... and the program will continue to grow."

Gibson has been a big part of the cheerleading association for several years. Her 15-year-old daughter, Lindsey, began cheering at the age of 3, and Gibson started helping with the program.

Gibson moved up the ladder to president after handling many chores, starting first with the Cape St. Claire group that her daughter cheered for. She has been the association's president for the past five years, and she says she enjoys doing something that helps children.

"I love the kids - the kids are awesome," Gibson said. "The parents sometimes forget that it's all about the kids and not the parents."

About 1,000 children are involved in the organization, which is 23 years old. It's mostly girls, and everyone involved with the partnership is hoping to make it grow. The nine organizations currently part of the association cheer at football games in the fall and now can cheer at other events in the spring.

"We want to build something that's more attractive and brings in other organizations to the AAYCA," Hurman said. "The benefit for them is financial and it gives them the support of the county, which we're glad to give them."

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