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Cheerleading champs

Friday, September 15, 2006

(Photo)
Abby Harper, a Sikeston Junior High School cheerleader, practices a routine.
SIKESTON -- Sikeston Junior High School's cheerleading squad knows how to bring it.

On Aug. 7, the 20-member squad defeated four other school districts -- Jackson, Scott City, Cooter and Meadow Heights -- to place first at the regional competition at Perry Park in Perryville. For years the junior high squad has taken top honors at the regional contest.

"I've never been more proud of 20 girls as I was that day," said sponsor Sheri Mitchell. "Whether they were performing or cheering from the sidelines, these girls gave it their all. They deserved nothing less than first place."

All of the practices, obstacles and worry was all worth it the minute the girls stepped foot on the mat, Mitchell said.

"According to the judges, our routine was in the advanced category," Mitchell said. "Some of the high school squads didn't do as advanced as we did."

Mitchell said the squad began its routine with a powerful opener, including standing back handsprings, back-tucks, cross tumbling and ending it with four liberties. They continued the energy with a catchy cheer, complete with three full downs from extensions.

"The momentum only built when they ended their routine with a fast-paced 'hott' dance, having the crowd standing on their feet," Mitchell said.

Mitchell admitted there aren't a lot of junior high schools that compete at regionals, but it's just enough competition, she said.

New this year to the competition was the use of mats. A new rule by the Missouri State High School Athletics Association mandates cheerleaders use mats if they perform basket tosses, Mitchell explained.

"It just started this year and it was different for us because we're used to competing on the floor," Mitchell said.

But lucky for the squad, the R-6 district purchased mats for the junior high and high school cheerleaders a couple weeks before the competition. The mats actually made it easier, squad captain Emily Eaves said.

"It gives everybody a little more confidence and you can throw stunts you wouldn't throw on hardwood floors," said Eaves, who is a main base.

Junior high cheerleading squads aren't allowed to compete at the state level, Mitchell said.

So why go through the process?

"Going to regional helps when they get in high school, and it's a good learning experience," Mitchell said.

The girls start practicing for regionals in April. During the summer they practice every day, and now that the new season started, the squad practices once a week.

"Nobody realizes how much time we put in -- and we put in as much or more than the other sports," Eaves said. "We don't stop. Our season is year round."

Mitchell attributes the cheerleaders' success -- both past and present -- to several things.

"It's something Sikeston really takes pride in and the girls really try hard and practice hard," Mitchell said.

Early involvement by the girls in gymnastics and dance schools also plays a big role.

"Many of these girls started at 5 or 6 years old," Mitchell said. "They get started in it really early, and I think that's why they always do so well."

It's a team effort, Mitchell said. She commended the girls and their parents for their cooperation and support.

Eaves, who shares squad captain duties with Ginny Matthews, said she thinks the success is due to the coaches putting in so much time and effort with the squad.

"I think our squad wants to be the best. We're all here to help and support each other," Eaves said.

Eaves started cheering at the beginning of her sixth grade year and said she definitely plans to continue cheering in high school.

"It's such a big tradition in Sikeston, and I feel lucky to be a part of it," Eaves said.