If you've ever been to a football game, virtually any football game, then you've seen the cheerleaders along the side lines.
Their job is to cheer on the team, but most importantly, to keep the spirit of the crowd up during the game. It's a job they take very seriously. "I've been cheering my whole life," said Bekah Walker, one of six seniors on the Thomson High School cheer leading squad. "I did TCB (Thomson Competitive Bulldogs) for seven years before I started cheering for Thomson. I love it."
It's a common story among the current squad of Thomson cheerleaders. "A lot of our girls have gone through the TCB program before they came here," says THS cheer leading coach Amy Hitt. "By the time they come here, they've already learned the skills required in cheerleading, and they're experienced with the tumbling, the dance routines, and the general cheers.
Thanks to TCB, we have a squad of strong, experienced cheerleaders here at Thomson."
In recent years, cheer leading has evolved from strictly a support activity to now being considered a sport itself. "More and more colleges are offering scholarships in cheer leading," says coach Hitt. "Mostly its on the competitive side of cheer leading, but some schools also offer scholarships for the cheerleaders you see at ball games." It's not uncommon for cheerleaders to also be athletes in other sports. "I play tennis for Thomson in the Spring," said senior BritnieAnne Campbell.
"But in the fall and winter, I cheer at the football and basketball games." Squad captain Breya Bentley moved to cheer leading after trying basketball. "I wanted to play basketball, but that didn't work out too well," she said. "So I tried cheer leading, and I just love it. I love doing the routines, the cheers, acting crazy in front of the fans, all of it, really."
Like any sport, cheering does carry a risk of injury. The danger is greatest during the "flying" formations, where a cheerleader is held up in the air, and then falls and has to be caught by members on the "base". "I did get my nose broken once," said Bekah Walker.
"I was on the base, and when the flier came down, her hand whipped around and socked me in the nose and broke it." Her injury earned her a trip to the hospital, but didn't discourage her from cheering. "I wasn't able to cheer any more that night," she said.
"But the next week I was fine and was able to join the squad and get back to cheering." Cheering also helps build confidence in one's self, and trust in others. "I'm a flier sometimes, and base other times, and the flying used to scare me," said Tiera Brinkley. "But I learned that you just have to trust your base and let go. It doesn't scare me anymore."
Like any sport, it's best to get started early in life. "If a young girl came to me and said she wanted to be a cheerleader, I'd tell her to start playing sports," said coach Hitt. "Any sport, wherever she can, whether it's rec league, at school, whatever. That will help with her eye-hand coordination and her strength, and that's a huge part of cheer leading. Then, when she's a little older, she'll have a good foundation for learning to be a cheerleader."