Cheering – without cheering

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Watching the All-American Spirit (AAS) cheerleaders, you’ll see the girls doing all sorts of dance moves in unison. Looking closely, you’ll notice their oftentimes hilarious facial expressions, an effective tool for getting the crowd involved. You’ll gasp as some of the smallest cheerers are propeled into the air, only to quickly return to the landing port of their teammates.

But one thing that you’re not going to find is cheering.

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You might be thinking, &uot;What?! Cheerleaders that don’t actually cheer? That even makes the word ‘cheerleader’ sound redundant!&uot;

Nope. These lady merrymakers wow the crowds not with their voices, but with the physical abilities. &uot;We’re all about tumbling, stunting and dance,&uot; said AAS senior squad co-captain Kristen Myers, 16, a Lakeland High School student. &uot;It’s more athletic than recreation cheerleading (rec. leagues cheer, All-Stars, like AAS, do not). You have to have a lot more dedication than any other type of cheerleading.&uot;

&uot;You have to show a lot of energy the whole time you’re cheering,&uot; said co-captain Ashli Taylor, also a Lakeland student. &uot;You use a lot of facials, like smiles, winks, and looks of confidence.&uot;

The girls work out to a dance mix of dozens of songs, ranging from &uot;Play That Funky Music&uot; to &uot;All That I’m Feeling.&uot;

&uot;It’s the fastest and hardest two and a half minutes of your life,&uot; Myers said. &uot;You have to memorize every eight-count that you do, or the whole thing gets messed up.&uot;

In 2003, only their first year of existence, the senior (13-18), junior (11-13) and youth advanced (8-10) AAS teams all received bids to head to Disney World for the Americheer National competition (the tiny tots, ages 5-7, did not receive a bid). The seniors took third, and the juniors fourth. In late March, the teams will head back south for another shot at national competition.

&uot;I would say that we’re stronger,&uot; Myers said, &uot;but we have a lot of work to do.&uot; That shouldn’t take long; the girls have been practicing two or three times a week for up to four hours at a time.

Last year’s Florida event, remembers Taylor, was &uot;unexplainable. I was intimidated, but I was excited. The other teams were so good.&uot; On Feb. 8, however, she, Myers and fellow squad members Amanda Smith and Brooke Smith got a special warmup for performing in front of large crowds; by being selected to the All-American Cheer and Dance team, they showed their skills to thousands in Hawaii at the NFL’s Pro Bowl game.

&uot;That just put even more pressure on us,&uot; said Taylor. &uot;We saw that we really had to be somebody to be there.&uot; Along with roughly 400 other young cheerers, the girls performed before the game and at halftime.

&uot;It was even tougher than at nationals,&uot; Myers said. &uot;Even though you were doing the same thing as about 200 other girls, if you got out of place, you’d mess up everything.&uot;

The group is currently taking signups for potential cheerleaders age 3-18. For details, call Susan Piland at 934-8898.