Md. cheerleaders go, fight, win

Annual state cheer and dance contest highlights evolution of the rigorous sport

January 08, 2007|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,sun reporter

For varsity cheerleaders with dazzling red sequined bows in their hair, the girls from Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn were exceptionally stern-faced. In fact, sitting in a tight cluster as they waited backstage at 1st Mariner Arena yesterday, the team looked downright cheerless.

"Just a little nervous," said coach Lindsey B. Miller - who looked a little pale herself. "Everybody is just a little nervous."

Who could blame them? They were about to perform a complex and risky routine in front of thousands of spectators at the 18th annual Maryland State Cheer and Dance Championships.

Teams from all over the state gathered at the arena yesterday for a competition where cheerleaders and dancers are more than a sideline diversion - they are the center attraction. The championship drew an estimate 7,000 spectators and 152 teams to compete for trophies and bragging rights in a athletic endeavor that organizers say has evolved beyond pom-poms, splits and high kicks to become a full-fledged sport.

"It is not just about creativity or cuteness anymore," said Serena Andrews, the founder and organizer of the event. "The athleticism has become a huge part. They are pushing the envelope."

Andrews, whose Linthicum-based company Coastal Alliance Corp. runs several large cheerleading events, said the sport boomed about five years ago with the rise of All Stars, private cheerleading teams that exist only to compete and are not affiliated with a school.

Yesterday's daylong event featured divisions for All Stars and for teams from high schools and local recreation departments. The competitors ranged in age from 3 to 18, both boys and girls.

Lucinda Y. Mcdowell of Edgewood was in the stands to support her 9-year-old granddaughter, Destiny Davis. "It use to be cheerleading was not recognized as a sport," Mcdowell said. "Now they have tremendous competitions. To throw somebody up in the air ... it is something else."

When cheerleaders get tossed into the air or balance on the upthrust hands of their teammates, it is known as a "stunt." A popular stunt yesterday was the "the scorpion," in which a girl balances one leg on her teammates' hands while she pulls her other leg behind her head with her arms. Every so often the competitors would get off kilter and end up in a heap on the thick padded floor.

"We have sprained ankles, we have pulled hamstrings," said Christina F. Heller of Frederick, a former Ravens cheerleader who now coaches the Dream All Stars, a team from Gaithersburg. "It is very athletic."

Fear of injury was part of the reason the Archbishop Spalding girls were so nervous before their routine. One of their number, 17-year-old Megan Hohenstein of Crownsville, was recovering from a broken arm she suffered while supporting another girl during a stunt just before Thanksgiving. She competed with her team yesterday, but did not take part in the stunts.

When their turn arrived, the team members burst through a curtain onto the competition floor, pumping their fists and smiling and cheering. Deafeningly loud techno music thumped from the arena's giant speakers. The girls performed a series of handsprings across the floor, their headbands and matching sequin shorts flashing red under the bright lights. The girls then formed three groups and each group tossed one team member twirling high above their heads, then caught her in their arms before she hit the mat.

All was going well until they attempted the scorpion. One of the three girls performing the stunt lost her balance and half her group collapsed as they tried to catch her. Nobody was hurt, but they had momentarily lost their momentum, and on the next stunt they failed to even get the girl off the ground.

"It did not go the way we planned," said 17-year-old Emily Creveling of Bowie afterward. "We have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to hit everything, and it is our only chance. The pressure gets to you."

They all groaned in unison at their gymnastic missteps as they watched a video replay, but by the end of the video their spirits had lifted and they were smiling and complimenting each other.

"We are going to do good after this," said Hohenstein, referring to future competitions. "How we did today is motivation to do well the rest of the year."

As it turned out, they did better than they thought. At the awards ceremony in the afternoon the team won the top prize in their division, as well as an award for the best gymnastic tumbling.

"I did not think we did well at all," Hohenstein said. "I am surprised ... but happy."

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