Cheerleader extraordinaire

Published 9:58 pm Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reagan Piland of Suffolk was already flying when most were still on the ground mastering how to clap.

At a recent showcase with 40,000 people in attendance, the 10-year-old was one of the performers singled out by Abby Lee Miller, highly regarded dance instructor and star of Lifetime’s reality show “Dance Moms.” Miller gave her the Rising Star Award.

During a stunt, 10-year-old Reagan Piland of Suffolk shows off her trademark passion that has put her way ahead of the curve in the world of competitive cheerleading.

During a stunt, 10-year-old Reagan Piland of Suffolk shows off her trademark passion that has put her way ahead of the curve in the world of competitive cheerleading.

Reagan also performed solo at national competitions when she was 5, 6 and 7, winning the title of grand champion every time.

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“She’s been cheering since she was 2,” said her mother, Susan Wilkins-Piland.

Reagan is a competitive cheerleader with Cheer Extreme Allstars, an organization with three world championship titles and more than 850 national champion titles. It has 10 gyms, seven located in North Carolina and three in Virginia.

Wilkins-Piland is the program director at the Hampton Roads gym in Chesapeake. “I own the gym, but (Reagan) was kind of like a little, baby gym rat,” she said.

Her mom’s position helped with the early start, but Reagan took it from there as a small child, learning by observing those at the gym who were training.

“She really watched those older girls every day,” Wilkins-Piland said.

One of the team moms at Cheer Extreme Allstars, Tiffany Hazley, has observed Reagan’s development and abilities, and she knows a major reason why she is so good so early.

“This kid is beyond dedicated for her age,” Hazley said.

When other girls are relaxing during their free time, Reagan will often be watching cheerleading tutorials or practicing. She practices three and a half hours on weeknights and sometimes on Sundays for about four hours.

When asked why she’s so dedicated to cheerleading, Reagan has a simple answer: “Because I love it.”

But Reagan’s life isn’t all smiles and hairbows. Amazingly, she has been able to excel while tackling the complications that come with being a Type 1 diabetic.

“I really don’t see a whole lot of people being able to do that at her age, but she has never once complained,” Wilkins-Piland said. “She was diagnosed at 6 years old.”

She is required to wear an insulin pump most of the time, though she does take it off to compete. She plans on developing a line of cheer/dance attire specifically for diabetics, with a pocket for the pump.

Her passion has translated into her mastering the backhand spring at the age of 4, when other girls are still working on it at 7. She is currently working on the full twist, a 360-degree rotation in the air.

When she and her team perform stunts, she said the most difficult part of it for her is “the flying.” She is the flyer who must maintain balance while executing moves as her teammates hold her up in the air.

Cheerleaders have to be at least 12 to be members of a worlds team, one that competes for world titles. Most girls do not make the cut for one until their senior year of high school, their last year of eligibility, but Reagan has a legitimate shot at making it in her first.

The diminutive Reagan can be quite shy, but when she is performing, it is a different story.

“She comes alive on that mat,” Wilkins-Piland said. “It’s like a different kid.”

This zeal for performing helped catch the eye of Abby Lee Miller at the Cheer Extreme Allstars Showcase, a gathering of the 10 gyms at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.

She performed at the showcase with both teams of which she is a member: the Tangos, an 8- to 11-year old group, and the Senior Alphas, a 10- to 18-year old group.

Reagan was one of the few Miller picked from out of 500-plus performers. When Miller called attention to her, Wilkins-Piland said, “We didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad, knowing Abby Lee’s reputation.”

Miller is well-known for offering candid critiques, but her feedback on Reagan was decidedly positive. She was sold on the 10-year-old’s aggressive performance of the routine as music played in accompaniment.

“She lip-syncs a lot in her routines and that really stood out to Abby Lee,” Wilkins-Piland said.

Miller said she did not know if the 10-year old should be a cheerleader or a pop star.

In addition to the award, she invited Reagan to dance for the Abby Lee Dance Company. Reagan has been taking dance from the Mountcastle School of Dancing in Suffolk.

Reagan has one clear goal for the future in the world of cheerleading. “Getting on Senior Elite,” she said, referring to the three-time world champion Cheer Extreme Allstars worlds team.