Months of preparation. Hours of practice. Three minutes of performance
The Sikeston High School Cheerleading squad is an outstanding group of 26 young women that have put in hundreds of hours of work in preparation for the 2010 Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association State Championship. In addition to cheering on the sidelines at every Bulldog football game, being full-time students, having part time jobs and other extra curricular activities, these women are practicing almost every day for the state competition. And they've only got one shot to hit a perfect routine; anything less than perfect and a streak of four consecutive championships could be over. No pressure, right?
This is where I come in. As a cheer choreographer, I've had the pleasure of working with these ladies for the past several weeks developing their stunting technique, synchronization and showmanship. Little did I know that my job duties would grow to include personal trainer, motivational speaker and most importantly, friend. A cheer routine is three short but very intense minutes that require coordination, balance, strength, stamina and power; all with pretty smiling faces and big white bows. I prepare the girls for such a thing by intense physical conditioning exercises at the end of each practice that target the muscles they use while stunting and jumping, etc... I've often been called the "drill sergeant of cheerleading"; a title I'm quite proud of.
On the contrary, I also become a shoulder to cry on when something is not going right or the cheerleader is just not "getting it" (I can try and try but I can't speak 'girl'). I've received several dirty looks as I barked orders over and over until they get it right. I also get to witness their eyes widen and hear the squeals of joy when a new stunt hits after countless failed attempts. I can always count on hearing, "Ben! Ben! Look, look! We hit it! Did you see it?"
Each girl has their own personality and they all learn differently, so I have to teach them all differently. They are all very unique, albeit, quirky and don't always get along. But watching a group of 26 individuals develop into one team is a beautiful thing and I recommend the experience to anyone. Of course this is no easy process.
For those of you who do not know, a cheerleading routine starts as a concept, an idea of how the individual strengths of the team should be highlighted in a way that will score the most points. The squad is judged in several ways other than lifting and tumbling. Showmanship, crowd appeal, voice projection and appearance are all areas where a squad can earn (or lose) points. There are literally thousands of combinations of dance, jumps, stunts, pyramids, tumbling and transitions that have to be pieced together creatively to form the final product. You have to assess the ability level of the team then design stunts, basket tosses and pyramids that will push them to just a bit further than what they think they're capable of.
After the individual skills are taught, then you must strategically put them together so that the routine flows in a way that will appeal to the crowd. Each of these aspects of the routine is performed in two minutes of music and a one minute crowd-leading cheer. Not impressed? Try doing all of these things in front of thousands of people picking apart your every move and hoping you will fail.
A cheerleading competition is an animal. It will chew you up and spit you out, leaving no regard for feelings or ego. In other sports if you drop the ball, it's a turnover or an incomplete pass. In cheerleading if you drop the ball, chances are you're out. You can only hope your competition gets one more point deduction than you do. Not these girls.
The hours of hard work, determination and most of all, heart have changed the attitude of this particular team in a way that I've never witnessed (and I've worked with dozens of championship caliber-competition teams). This team wants to win; wants every team on that big blue mat to nail a perfect routine. Why? Because they want to know they really are the best. No drops. No technicalities. No question.
The team is under the guidance of three wonderful women, or as I like to call them, " the cheerleaders' biggest cheerleaders." Wanda, Tricia and Jaclyn. These women take delight in the team's successes as well as comfort and guide them in times of need. Like their athletes, these women also make tremendous sacrifices to be there for "their" girls. The coaches have a keen eye for picking out a wrong step or a non-smiling face and can often be seen on the sidelines showing (very enthusiastically) how they want it done.
The past few years years have been a testament of their passion and dedication to the Sikeston cheerleaders. The team changes as seniors graduate and new faces join the squad, but the one consistent element is these three ladies and their love of the sport. It takes a very strong character to be a coach, a mentor and a second mom. They truly are the cheerleaders' biggest cheerleaders.
Even after all the hard work put into creating this routine the girls will learn one thing: it's not about winning. It's about building friendships, making commitments and sacrifices, learning discipline and working hard for something you want. I promise you, if these girls learn these things, we've done our job, win or lose. First or last.
The great thing about Sikeston is that this community supports these young women just as much as they support the teams on the field. The cheerleaders spend 99 percent of their time in front of the crowd cheering on the football or basketball teams. As I mentioned before, this is their three minutes to shine, and they need their own cheerleaders, 17,059 of them to be exact. There will be a showcase of the routine on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Field House. The state competition is held in Columbia on Friday at the Hearnes Center. The cheerleaders, coaches and I thank you for your support and encourage you to show your Bulldog Pride by showing up, watching a stellar performance and going absolutely crazy when our one shot is up.