Saint to cheer on Hokies

Published 3:45 pm Monday, May 30, 2011

Nansemond-Suffolk senior Kelsey Smith earned her way onto Virginia Tech’s cheerleading team through a tryout in Blacksburg earlier this spring. Smith’s been a Saint cheerleader since the eighth grade. She’s already secured a spot on the sidelines at Lane Stadium this coming fall and further tryouts to be on VT’s competitive cheer team are coming up over the summer.

Eight years of practicing and working has led Kelsey Smith to a level very few athletes get to experience in their best sport.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, Smith will be one of the Hokies performing in front of about 70,000 fans in Lane Stadium. Smith, an NSA senior and incoming Virginia Tech freshman, made Virginia Tech’s cheerleading team at tryouts in April.

Smith got into VT in December via early decision and was completely sold on becoming a Hokie regardless of how the tryouts went.

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“I actually never saw myself at Virginia Tech until earlier this (school) year,” Smith said.

She toured the campus in September and loved everything most students consider when narrowing down college choices. Smith saw the school in ways a longtime cheerleader might, too.

“Everyone going to class around campus was decked out in Tech gear and colors. Everyone was just really nice and so spirited. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of and cheer for,” Smith said.

Smith’s been a competition cheerleader since 2003, well before going into sideline cheerleading as a Saint as an eighth grader.

The gymnastic ability and strength needed for competitive cheering drew Smith more and more into the sport.

“At first, I wasn’t really into sideline cheerleading that much,” she said.

Being a leader for school spirit has been the main reason why Smith’s changed her mind about cheering at football games, basketball games and pep rallies.

“There’s a lot behind the scenes that’s preparation for cheering for games. It’s a lot of hard work,” Smith said.

“People think it’s just rah-rah and maybe don’t think there’s more than that. I learned you are important in carrying school spirit and I’ve already seen at Virginia Tech that’s a very big deal,” she said.

Forty-eight girls tried out in Blacksburg in April. Smith was one of 26 to make the team. The work is only picking up from there, though.

“I got a DVD the other day with over 50 cheers we have to know by mid-June,” Smith said.

Even though she’s made the team, if Smith’s not up to speed by the time the team gathers for summer practices at VT in late June, “it’s sink or swim,” she said.

In August, a weekend will be devoted to more tryouts, to determine who will fill the eight open spots on VT’s competitive cheerleading team.

Along with Saint cheering and being a four-year varsity softball player for the Lady Saints, Smith’s on the Virginia Wild, a competition cheering club in Virginia Beach.

Three practices a week with the Wild is just the start, especially as the Hokie tryouts neared. The Wild traveled to competitions around the country, to places such as Hershey, Pa., Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Orlando. Then there still is the needed gymnastics and weight-lifting, plus schoolwork somewhere in there. Smith is a National Honor Society student.

“It’s been jam-packed this spring. I was really trying to be focused on where I need to be with tryouts,” Smith said.

Co-ed stunting is one big example of the major step from high school cheering to what will be expected at Virginia Tech.

Then there are injuries that would make most people, even other athletes, quit just from hearing the list.

Smith counts herself pretty fortunate that a torn ankle ligament about a year ago has been one her toughest injuries. She’s had teammates fracture both heels at the same time, have “completely” broken legs, ACL tears, neck injuries and back injuries.

“You have to know what you’re doing all the time,” Smith said, “and really have great coaches and trust them.”

“In football, you have helmets and pads. With cheering, you have yourself,” Smith said.

An international competition at the Disney Wide World of Sports in Orlando is the largest crowd Smith’s competed in front of so far.

A game at Lane Stadium will be another step up from Orlando, and countless levels up from a Saint game on a Friday night.

“You have to like big crowds,” Smith said, “but the first football game will be sort of surreal. It’ll probably be shocking for a moment.”