(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"We're going over the routine in our heads," she said. One of her coaches, Sarah McGill, agreed the girls are anticipating the competition, coming into class and announcing how many days are left.
That's also the case at East Prairie, New Madrid County Central and Kelly high schools. Cheerleading squads at all the schools are putting in long hours this week to prepare for the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association state competition scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
"I think they can't stop thinking about it -- they say they dream about it," said Nikki Heuring, Kelly High School's cheerleading coach. "They're so driven and focused on what they need to do -- they're living and breathing it."
Anticipation is also in the air at East Prairie High School. "We're really excited about the choreography," said Jamie Shoffner, who coaches the squad with Kasey Cogdill. "It's just a real sharp, clean routine."
Nerves run high among cheerleaders at New Madrid County Central. The squad is not coed for the first time in several years. "About half of them have never competed before," said coach Chrisi Hodges.
To compete at state, a cheer squad must receive a bid -- or place in the top five of their division at regional competition in August, Shoffner explained. That's preceded by conditioning, which typically begins in June. "We've been working at this for a long time," said Wanda Throop, one of Sikeston's cheerleading coaches.
Vaughn, who has attended state all three years she has cheered, listed her goals for the competition. "I just want to hit all of our lifts, not get any penalties and hopefully come back with our title again," she said.
Since Sikeston won its division last year, members are under a bit more pressure.
"Everybody's working to beat Sikeston," McGill said. It's especially important for the three seniors on the squad.
"I just want to keep it," Vaughn said.
NMCC also has a hurdle to beat. Last year, the squad finished second -- the highest rank it has ever earned -- and is working to do better. "They just want to do their best and try to get first place," Hodges said.
Squad members put in a lot of time and effort to perfect their routines -- giving up evenings and time on the weekends "to become the best that they can become," said Trisha Keefer, cheerleading coach at Sikeston Senior High.
In addition to that, squads (with the exception of Kelly) cheer at football games -- and sideline cheering is quite different from the routine -- plus some take additional classes, such as tumbling and gymnastics.
"It's really stressful, and it takes a lot of dedication," said Vaughn. "You have to be willing to give it everything you have, but hopefully it will pay off in the end."
Keefer said she doesn't hear complaints from her squad, but sees their frustration. "Their bodies are exhausted, because they've worked extremely hard," she said.
The difficulty level of the stunts as well as the gymnastics involved in the routines is quite high, Throop added.
This week, the squads are practicing for a few hours every night. It's down to the wire, where every move counts.
For instance, Keefer and Throop sit at the top seat in the middle of the bleachers -- dubbed the "judges' view" -- watching their squad. Keefer holds a video camera to film the routine, which the team watches, critiques, then hits the tumbling pads again to fix.
"We're just trying to clean it up and perfect it," Throop said.
But it's not just about being physically ready -- mental preparation is also key.
"They're just not used to walking out and seeing thousands of people staring at them -- the attention is usually focused on the ball game," Heuring said. "The stage fright is a big thing to overcome."
The squad also must have its timing perfected. The routine is half dancing and half cheering. If a team goes over its three-minute limit, they will be penalized, which makes it more or less impossible to win, McGill said.
But regardless of how they do, the cheerleaders have still learned a lot by the time the competition is over.
"I think most of them are going to be glad they've put their best into it and know they've given it their all," said Hodges.
"The amount of effort and time that these athletes put into this teaches them respect and work ethic," Throop said. "It helps them to stand in front of a people and complete their goals."
She listed other things they learn, such as how to work as a team, cooperation and "to accomplish something that gives them a sense of pride." And in the end, it's all about pride. "We're there competing for our school so our school will be proud of us," Keefer said.
And no matter what, the cheerleaders are recognized in their communities. "The other students are really proud of them," Heuring said. "They're making banners and posters just to wish (the cheerleaders) well."
Some of the cheerleading squads will perform their routines for the public before they leave for Columbia this weekend. Here's the information you need to know to cheer them on:
New Madrid County Central will perform at 6 o'clock tonight at the school gymnasium
Sikeston Senior High School will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Field House
East Prairie High School will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at the school gymnasium
Kelly High School will have a pep assembly to send off the cheerleaders and mark the season opener at 9:15 a.m. Friday