Tournament full of holiday cheers

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Not all the competition at the seMissourian Christmas Tournament was between the basketball teams. Cheerleading squads are there primarily to pump up their team with yells and to add to the atmosphere. But they admit that if the game is close, they can't help wanting to top the other team's cheerleaders if they can.

"We have a lot of people that can do handsprings if the game is real competitive," Lauren Smith, co-captain of the Charleston, Mo., cheerleading squad, said Monday night before the championship game between her school and Notre Dame.

Counterpart Holly Bauer, co-captain of the Notre Dame cheerleading squad, concurred.

"When it's a big game, we feel competitive," Bauer said. "We do have more competitive builds and throw the girls higher."

Bell City, Mo., and Oran, Mo., high schools played for third place in the preliminary game Monday night. The rivalry between the schools is intense this year. Both have highly competitive teams and coaches, said Kerry Swain, the Oran cheerleader sponsor.

"We're both a little salty, as coach Wood would say." Mitch Wood is the Oran coach.

Brent Graviett, a junior on the Oran team, thinks his own school's cheerleaders were the best at the tournament. "They always keep us pumped up and keep the crowd pumped up, and their dance routines are good," he said. "The crowd loves them."

Crowd control is one role cheerleaders play that may not be apparent to fans. If fans start yelling at referees or the other team's players, the cheerleaders know it's time to start a more positive chant.

"Our crowd is known to be unruly," said Amy Nichols, the Bell City cheerleading sponsor. "The girls try to keep good sportsmanship."

Cheering for a good team is a lot easier, said captain Katie Niemczyk, whose Bell City Cubs won the Class 1A state championship last year.

Niemczyk was born to be a cheerleader. Her older brother played on the Bell City team when she was a toddler. "I was like their mascot," she said.

Niemczyk suffered a mild concussion last year when elbowed by another cheerleader.

Also playing sports

Cheerleaders from small schools often play sports as well. At Oran High School, Carmen Duncan not only is a cheerleader but plays on the girls' basketball team at the same time of year. Her older sister, Candice, is the captain of the cheerleading squad. Candice has been cheerleading since junior high school and remembers wanting to be a cheerleader ever since she was a little girl.

"I would think of them as role models," she said.

Oran is young this year and lacks small girls to do flying stunts. Most of Oran's cheerleaders also play volleyball.

Notre Dame's Bauer doesn't have that problem. She weighs only 100 pounds and is one of the squad's fliers. She also has suffered a mild concussion, hers from being dropped on her head.

Cheerleaders think they contribute when their team wins. "When the stands are full, I know it helps when the crowd is loud," Bauer said.

Joe Dufek, a junior on the Notre Dame team, prefers the Scott City cheerleaders "just because they're loud." But he doesn't think cheerleaders have any effect on the outcome of games.

"I don't really pay attention to cheerleaders," he said. "They're here just for looks."

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