There wasn't a game to watch, but a few fans showed up anyway to hear the cheers and chants that echoed through the Show Me Center Tuesday morning.
Nearly 200 high school students, their coaches and relatives gathered for the final hours of a four-day high school cheerleading camp. Another 200 students arrive today for a three-day camp.
In many cases, the cheerleaders are the athletic equals -- or maybe better -- of those they cheer.
"As far as the cheerleading world goes, they're athletes, and some schedules go year-round," said Mike Moyers with the National Cheerleading Association. He attended the camp, sponsored by Southeast Missouri State University.
Cheerleaders have to be athletes first, Moyers said. The enthusiasm comes later.
High school cheerleaders cheer for football, volleyball, wrestling, hockey, soccer, basketball and compete as a squad. "Not many other sports practice year-round," Moyers said.
Cheerleading camp is just as intense as any other sports camp an athlete attends, primarily because cheerleading is just as much about strength and stamina as it is about spirit.
Camp begins each day by 8:30 a.m. and ends around 9 p.m., with breaks for meals and water but little else. Each day of camp, sessions are devoted to learning new cheers, chants, stunts and dance routines.
The girls -- and boys -- at camp can tumble and jump with the best of gymnasts and shout with all the spirit they can muster when it means rousing a crowd.
When it's Kelly High School's turn to perform, a few girls somersault across the floor while their peers yell "Go Hawks!" Once the Benton, Mo., squad is positioned, a girl yells "Ready!" and begins the cheer. At the end of the cheer, the girls begin the chant, "Everybody yell KHS!" and head into the bleachers.
With synchronized steps and claps, each squad takes the floor for a performance before the awards ceremony.
Camp staff present awards to the squad with the best stunts and team spirit as well as recognizing those cheerleaders who earned an All-American ranking from the National Cheerleading Association.
Sport or activity?
There's some debate about whether cheerleading is truly a sport or an after-school activity. The Missouri State High School Activities Association doesn't consider it a sanctioned activity because there are no competitions between schools. However the National Cheerleading Association does hold competitions. And students can earn scholarships for college by signing on as cheerleaders.
Regardless of whether it's considered a sport or just a school activity, there are plenty of students who devote time and effort to cheering. Students representing 12 school districts, from suburbs in St. Louis to cities in Illinois and Kentucky, attended the camp. The largest of the camps was held in early June and had more than 400 enrolled.
While the Kelly Hawks varsity cheerleading squad will be practicing the routines they learned at camp in the coming months, they don't cheer for games until basketball season starts; the school doesn't have a football team. The squad was one of the few local schools to attend the recent camp.
Kelly's cheerleading group is fairly young this year, with only two seniors and five juniors. But it's a good group, said coach Julie Milam. Part of the fun in coming to camp is to observe what other schools do and how they work together as a unit, she said.
Milam is a former Kelly High School cheerleader. She doesn't teach at the school, but asked to take on the coaching role. She is completing a college internship as a dietitian, so most of the squad's practices will be at night or on weekends. Being flexible is part of the job description, particularly when most of the squad is involved in other school clubs and activities. Squad captain Jaime Jackson is also the school's student body president.Teamwork and team unity are some of the most important lessons students can learn at camp, Moyers said.
"We want them to leave with the knowledge of cheerleading and what it means to be a cheerleader and the experience of a camp," said Tara Duffy, a cheerleading camp staff member and student at Southeast.
New chants and cheers
Members of the Kelly squad said the camp gave them plenty of new chants and cheers to practice but also was a bonding time. Since the squad is fairly small in comparison to some of the squads at the camp.
St. Louis-area schools, like Lindbergh or Parkway, who brought squads to camp are large enough to have freshman, junior varsity and varsity cheerleading squads. And having squads of 40 to 50 students means they can do stunts and routines that Kelly will never be able to do because they only have 14.
But that doesn't bother the Kelly girls.
"It's easier because we know everyone personally," said Kelly cheerleader Bobbie Mayhall.
To keep up that camaraderie during the school year, the squad regularly gets together for activities outside of cheerleading.
"We have shaving cream fights or go out for other things besides cheerleading," junior Jayme Montgomery said.
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