By ELIZABETH PATTERSON
The University of Mary Washington cheer squad hit the road to compete this weekend, and brought home a second-place win. The road to competition, however, was a long and challenging one.
Fans’ perceptions the cheer squad rests on the sidelines of every home basketball game, however, this sport is much more than the cheers and chants the fans have come to know and love. When basketball season ends, the UMW cheer season is just beginning. “It has been a long season,” said sophomore member Valorie Gibson. “We lost a lot of girls in the beginning due to lack of interest or time commitment problems, but we ended up with a good group of girls.” Gibson went on to explain that during basketball, the sidelines and fans are their priority, but as soon as basketball is over, “competition is our time to shine and showcase what we can really do.”
The girls spend a minimum of six hours a week practicing cheers, chants and more recently their competition routine. In addition to the mandatory gym practices, some girls put in time outside of practice to develop better skills and prepare for competition. Recently, the team has been attending Cheer Fusion to solidify their tumbling skills and clean up their routine.
“I think there is always room for improvement among any athlete or team,” said sophomore member Nikki McCormick. “UMW cheerleading has improved drastically in the last few years, and I’m excited to see it evolve into a better program in the years to come.”
The girls’ dedication goes even further. “Because cheer is not a varsity sport at UMW, we have had to fund these visits to the all-star gym ourselves in addition to paying out of pocket for our $200 uniform,” said captain and senior Katherine Koth. “We have also had to fundraise for every dollar that paid for competition. This clearly shows the girls on the team love what they do. Otherwise they wouldn’t be putting in so much time and money.”
At 9 a.m. Friday, March 31, the squad woke up early and hit the road to Ocean City, Maryland with their spirits high and their ponytails even higher. Saturdaymorning, the first day of competition, they put all their hard work and private lessons to the test as they went head to head with one of the best cheer squads in their division.
“We hit all our stunts perfectly- it might have been the best run we have ever done,” Gibson said. By Sunday morning, the final day of competition, the girls’ spirits were higher than ever when they realized their second performance earned them a zero deduction routine, the equivalent to a perfect score
When it came time for awards the girls were elated to find that they had earned second place. “We ended up with a five point improvement overall on our score from last year; which in cheerleading, when you think about that a single mistake is a fraction of a point, it is a huge deal that we were able to pull our score up as much as we did,” Gibson said.
Overall, the season proved to be a big stepping stone for the squad.
“One thing I would want people to know is that cheerleading may look easy and non-athletic at basketball games but we all put in a lot of work in preparation for our competition,” McCormick said. “Tumbling/gymnastics isn’t easy- it’s an Olympic sport for a reason. Stunting isn’t easy either; I lift and toss humans above my head, and that takes practice and strength.”