These days, there's more to cheerleading than pumping up fans

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

They start out with simple cheers like "B-A-S-K-E-T basket, boys basket" and move on to cartwheels, building pyramids and doing stunts and shows at half-time.

The job of a high school cheerleader has changed from being just a team supporter to being an athlete as well. Today's cheerleaders compete for college scholarships and at competitions both regionally and nationally. Joining a cheerleading squad today isn't just about popularity and pep. It's as much about athletic prowess.

"It's more about being athletic than just about being loud," said Chasity Wilfong, a cheerleader for Meadow Heights High School.

The size and sound of area cheerleading squads varies with the school district.

Just finding enough girls to act as cheerleaders at Delta High School is sufficient, while the competition is a little stiffer at Kelly High School in Benton, Mo., where 23 girls tried out for 14 spots on the squad.

At smaller schools, basketball is the major sport, so getting chosen for the cheerleading squad is a big deal. At Kelly, the competition is fierce in part because the cheer squad competes.

And there's always the competition from the opposing team's squad. "We try to be louder and look better," said Kyli Walker, a Kelly cheerleader.

No matter who looks better or has louder cheers, people still tend to stereotype cheerleaders as being preppy or snobs, said the squad at Woodland High School in Marble Hill.

"We really try to get along with everybody," said Mindy Massa, a junior. Because in the long run, it's not about popularity but about teamwork.

These girls move with a fluidity you don't find everywhere. Every twist and turn, clap and jump has to be timed.

And it's all for getting the crowd pumped up for a game, which can be tough when their team lags behind. "It's hard to get their attention," said Ashley Martin of Delta.

Cheerleaders for the Delta Bobcats and Meadow Heights Panthers didn't have much trouble getting a response from the crowd during Monday afternoon's game at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. The teams were nearly tied all throughout the game.

Kelly's squad also uses pep cheers to keep the crowd interested. And since the squad competes, the routines include more stunts than those squads that just try to add pep to the game, said Walker.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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