Editors Note: This story first appeared on weelunk.com on December 1 2014, WPHS did go on and win the State Cheering Championship that year.
Cheerleading over the last decade has become more than pompoms and pep rallies. Competitive cheerleading has gained popularity rapidly, including in the Ohio Valley. Local high school squads work through the majority of the year perfecting a routine which combines the most difficult skills possible. From tryouts in the beginning of August until mid-February, the Wheeling Park Cheerleaders practice for countless hours while juggling school work and community service as well. On December 13, my teammates and I will be lucky enough to see our hard work pay off in an opportunity to compete at the state level.
Every season has one main goal: to become state champions. Even though we don’t face a rival on a weekly basis or even see them throughout the year, we compete more against ourselves than anyone else. The first step in our quest for the title is to win the regional tournament in November. From a tryout in August until that time seems like a while, but the months fly by as we get wrapped up in football season and schoolwork. The months turn to weeks then days, until the day of the regional tournament finally arrives. As cheerleaders, we get one chance to perform, one opportunity to show three months of preparation and training. Three minutes on a floor in front of five judges and our adoring friends and family is all we have to complete every skill we can do with a smile on our face. There’s no “you’ll get them during the second half”. One mistake at the beginning of the routine, even as miniscule as it may seem, is detrimental. A missed jump, a toe not pointed all the way, or a stumble either in the air or tumbling is a deduction which, when trying to qualify for states, no team can afford.
In preparation for the upcoming state tournament, my teammates and I work to exhaustion every day. Practice is far from easy especially with such a large goal in mind. In cheerleading, it is so easy to put an immense amount of pressure on oneself when every person on the floor has specific jobs. When lifting a girl into the air for example, the flyer, girl who is lifted, must try to hold her own weight as much as possible and look like she is having the time of her life. The two or three girls underneath her however must have their hands placed in exact spots on her foot and ankle and be able to talk to one another in case something is even the slightest bit off. Each stunt group as we call it must be one cooperative unit all working in perfect unison. In routines, three of these units perform elite level stunts where flyers switch legs and show off unbelievable flexibility. On the floor at competition, we place trust in each other to do their job and make it work. Teamwork is the only way to make the dream become reality.
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Our commitment as Wheeling Park cheerleaders extends outside of the gym. We are expected to maintain grades and be a good example to the school and community of a proper student athlete. The community service aspect of the team is just as rewarding as the competitions. Each year we are honored to be volunteers for the night at the Ohio County Relay for Life in August. Helping in whatever way we can, my teammates and I are happy to be able to give the survivors the special night they deserve. In the last few years as well, our team has made it a priority to participate in “Reading Rallies” at local elementary schools. At Woodsdale, Middle Creek, and Elm Grove elementary, we show our skills to the children in an assembly, spread Park Pride, and read to the children in the classroom. I think it’s a great chance for us to show children that it is possible to be able to care about grades and school while being able to participate in a demanding sport. The impact of having conversations with young kids at such an impressionable age is unmeasurable. I really believe it is an experience they don’t forget. The consensus favorite team activity however is volunteering for the Miracle League. Giving back to the community or showing our skills we work endlessly to perfect makes us feel like we are a part of something more than cheerleading. We are an example to the community of what a student-athlete is and how the smallest acts can make a difference in the valley.
In the upcoming week as we make final preparations for the state tournament, my fourteen teammates and I will be studying for semester exams and continuing to spend time at local elementary schools. Even though being a state champion is the ultimate goal, there is more to being a cheerleader than flipping around the floor with the biggest smiles on our faces for three minutes. Practices will not get easier, but we will get tougher. An optimistic attitude will push us through the state tournament with confidence and ease. As a team, I know we can show all of our fans and supporters in the Charleston Civic Center that our hard work was worth it. The AAA competition is steep every year, but don’t count Wheeling Park out. We are ready to bring back a trophy to the Palace on the Hill.