Relentless athleticism

Nine area cheerleading teams of 20 girls each compete in the South Regional championship

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 Thursday night at Reservoir High School.

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

Atholton finished first, followed by Northeast and Broadneck from Anne Arundel County and River Hill. All four advanced to the state championship Thursday at North Point High School in Charles County. Oakland Mills also qualified for the regional event after finishing third in the county tournament that was won by Atholton.

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 - are excited to have an opportunity to show off their challenging, full-length routines in addition to pumping up the crowd at sports 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."

"Now we get the spotlight," added her teammate, Chelsea Raney, 16.

Raney said that spotlight can be intense.

"I've done other sports, and its not the same," she said, recalling how a soccer team, for example, has time during a game to come back from a mistake. In cheerleading, "you have one shot. It's exciting."

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 1960s-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.

"You have to sell your routine," said Tina Tyrrell, 15, from the River Hill team. "It's looking like you are having fun."

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."

Briana Rainey, 15, agreed with her Oakland Mills teammate. "Everybody thinks cheerleaders just jump up and down. It's more than that. It's harder than that. I tell them to come for a day and do what we do and practice as hard as we practice."

Those practices are held between more traditional cheering at 20 sports 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. Teams now receive funding and recognition from their schools, but team members miss going to all the football or basketball games and are not allowed to travel as much.

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.

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 2 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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