Bruises, sweat and smiles

Cheerleading teams hustle their way to state championship round

November 05, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Do athletes wear bows in their hair?

Nine area cheerleading teams said they do as they brought an energetic combination of athleticism and showmanship to the fall South Regional high school championship at Reservoir High School in Howard County on Thursday night.

Teams of 20 girls - every one sporting a beribboned ponytail and makeup - danced, shouted, threw each other in the air, flipped, cartwheeled and formed human pyramids in relentless 2 1/2 -minute routines that left the competitors breathless and, in some cases, needing ice packs and bandages.

Northeast and Broadneck high schools placed second and third, respectively, sandwiched between the winner, Atholton, and fourth-place River Hill, both of Howard County. All four advanced to the state championship Thursday at North Point High School in Charles County.

"They did everything they set out to do," eight-year Broadneck coach Karen Clapsaddle said of her squad. "They perfected every single stunt."

While Anne Arundel County has recognized cheerleading as a sport for about a decade, she said, such contests are fairly new for schools in the Howard system, which made cheerleading a varsity sport a little more than a year ago.

The cheerleaders - including many who have competitive experience outside of high school - were excited to have an opportunity to show off their challenging, full-length routines in addition to pumping up the crowd at sporting events.

"It was always like people looked down on us because we were on the sidelines," said Tian Tian Feng, 17, a cheerleader from Atholton. "This is a point where people can realize how much hard work goes into this."

Jennifer George, first-year coach of Northeast, last year's state champion, said her team practices 10 to 12 hours a week. She credited its second-place finish last week to a "very, very powerful opening."

"It's a jam-packed routine," she said.

The teams are scored on required elements, including dance segments, cheering, stunts, pyramids and tumbling. Half of the routine involves the group cheering together as they perform, and half is set to music.

Most schools chose medleys of popular rock and hip-hop songs, although Atholton stood out with its 1950s- and '60s-oriented mix.

Clean presentations with precise, uniform movements are important. "Judges are looking for a lot of timing and sharpness," said Atholton's varsity coach, Amy Tieperman.

Overall presentation also is a factor. Teams talked about the need for good "facials," or smiling, upbeat expressions, in earning up to 100 total points from each of three judges.

Jordann Montoya, 14, a cheerleader at Oakland Mills, said those requirements make cheerleading "harder than any other sport. We get beat up, we fall, and we keep a smile on our faces."

Practices are held between more traditional cheering at 20 sporting events - including all the varsity sports for both genders - each season. There are also separate tryouts for the fall and winter seasons.

It is a demanding schedule, Tieperman said, and feelings have been mixed about the change in status. The interscholastic contests give the cheerleaders a chance to put their efforts to the test, and show friends, family and fellow students what they can do. Teams also now receive funding and recognition from their schools, but the teenagers miss going to all the football or basketball games and are not allowed to travel as much.

As the teams psyched themselves up Thursday night with chants and lots of bouncing, cheering sections erupted in the stands led by junior varsity cheerleaders, football players and other supporters.

Not surprisingly, cheerleaders like to be cheered, too.

"It's that two minutes and 30 seconds when all the eyes are on you and the crowd cheers so loud," said Atholton cheerleader Danielle Cymber, 15. "The whole 2 1/2 minutes is the best part."

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