Being Of Good Cheer Is Hard Work

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R-O-C-K

Longhorns rock the house.

"Keep it loud ladies," varsity coach Erica Sexton calls out, as two dozen cheerleaders warm-up their voices and bodies during a practice.

A week includes daily synchronized kicks and arm movements equaling nine after-school hours by the end of a week so the varsity and junior varsity squads are ready to cheer the Longhorns, hopefully to victory, on game nights.

Football and basketball games are loud and there are many people in the stands.

Cheerleaders encourage even more enthusiasm.

"Our goal is to not to take away from the athletes, just encourage them," Laura Pederson said.

The squads plan to be there to support the soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball teams, but it would be distracting to have the girls yelling during play. That is why spectators don't see the cheerleaders as active during these types of events.

Perception from movies might be that cheerleaders are stuck up, but Pederson said, "We encourage morals and academics and so I would hope none of our girls act like that."

These teens work hard for their goals.

As school wound down last May, potential cheerleaders were just beginning their warm-up stretches in preparation to dance for the judges.

"We were taught a dance on Monday then performed the routine in front of five judges on Thursday," said Chelsea Iverson, a sophomore on the varsity squad.

"We were judged on jumps, kicks, splits, the dance and how perky we were -- how much we smiled.

And, it is not a matter of making the team and then taking summer off.

Summer included a car wash to raise funds, cheer camp and a dinner shortly after school was back in session this year.

"Half extensions," "single base," "liberty" and "basket toss" also called "star toss" are some of the moves in the routines cheerleaders must learn according to varsity cheer captain, Kalli Wilembrecht. Then there are "arabesques," "scorpions" and "twist-ups."

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Erica Sexton, varsity cheerleading coach

Cheerleaders are divided into groups, usually of five girls, that make up two bases, a front and back spot and a flyer.

The girls take flys and catches seriously.

Twirling up in the air requires that the girls below will catch you.

"It takes complete trust," Jonnie Lopez, a junior on the varsity squad, said.

What does it take to have that trust, that inevitably includes a few falls.

"I've grown up with these girls, so they are like sisters," Lopez said.

Falling usually means being caught, but then dropped from that position so it is not like hitting the ground with no one underneath.

Cheer is "stiffer" than dancing, said senior Melissa McLaws. She had not tried out for cheer before her friend Kalli talked her into it last year.

Cheer camp in the Valley helped the performance of the cheerleaders as a whole.

"This year we had our own private camp in Phoenix with four instructors," Iverson said. "Over two days they taught us two dances and how to do stunts like flips. We did conditioning exercises every day -- push-ups for four minutes straight, running and jumping over tumbling mats stacked at different heights."

"Before I went to camp I used tape to strengthen my wrists but they told us just to lift more," Iverson said. "Camp helped my performance a lot."

Iverson was on the JV cheer squad last year.

Earning a spot on the varsity squad is a matter of difficulty of lifts and routines.

JV cheerleaders cheer JV teams and varsity cheers varsity, except for the Longhorn Homecoming varsity football game at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 22, when both squads will be on the field forming a four stunt group pyramid as part of the half-time show.

"This year's varsity team has embraced the JV girls and we've tried to unite them because we are a spirit line," Sexton said.

"Some JV girls are close to having the same skill level as varsity girls, but they can't try out for varsity until the end of the school year," said JV coach Tami Fischer.

"I've been doing this with these ladies for five months but Laura (Pederson) brings organization to the squad and keeping them on task while Barb (Wilembrecht) has brought support during practice and was a huge part of fund-raising efforts."

Take it away ladies.

R-O-C-K

Longhorns rock the house.

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