Competition brings out athletics in cheerleading

High school cheerleaders from N.C. jumped and tumbled at the Raleigh Convention Center

dranii@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2012 

  • Check it out Interested in seeing the results of Saturday’s statewide cheerleading competition? They will be posted on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s website,

— If you think you don’t need to be much of an athlete to be a cheerleader, Jessica Toney would like to set you straight.

Jessica, 16, a cheerleader at Green Hope High School in Cary, fears that people whose only exposure to cheerleading has been at football and basketball games have a misconception of what it’s all about.

“It’s a really athletic sport even though people don’t think it is,” said Jessica, who’s been cheerleading since she was 5. “A lot of people have never seen real cheerleading ... and have never been really exposed to what you can do.”

“Real cheerleading,” per Jessica’s definition, was displayed in all its glory Saturday at the Raleigh Convention Center. More than 2,200 cheerleaders on 119 teams from across the state competed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s 10th annual invitational cheerleading championship at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Frequently accompanied by blasts of pulsating music that tested – and surpassed – the limits of the sound system, these cheerleaders didn’t strut their stuff. They launched it.

It was a hyperkinetic display of moves, including back handsprings, basket tosses (tossing cheerleaders known as “flyers” into the air) and extensions where cheerleaders lift an upright flyer above their heads.

“Our famous quote is, if cheerleading was easy, they would call it football,” Jessica said.

“It’s hard to be humble, when you can jump, stunt and tumble,” chimed in her teammate on the Green Hope cheerleading squad, Tara Mueller, 16.

During sporting events, cheerleaders serve up brief bursts of enthusiasm. At competitions, however, they stretch out in two-and-a-half-minute-long routines. Most cheerleaders seem to prefer the competitive variety, which puts the spotlight squarely on them and allows them to show off the technique they’ve honed after hours and hours of practice.

“I don’t like cheering for teams,” said Christian Martinez, 17, a cheerleader at Athens Drive High School. “It’s boring.”

Nina Johnson-Davis, who’s been coaching the cheerleading squad at Dudley High School in Greensboro since 2003, said the hardest thing for cheerleaders to learn is what they call “stunting.”

“Picking up a body and throwing it – it’s not natural,” she said. “Being responsible for someone’s safety is not something you do in everyday life.”

She added: “Football players throw balls. “We throw people.”

Stephen Taylor, 42, of Sneads Ferry in Onslow County, was on hand to cheer on his daughter, Jenna, a senior on the Dixon High School cheerleading squad. (His T-shirt proudly proclaimed: “Cheer Dad/Go Jenna.”)

“It’s a grueling physical sport and my daughter has the bruises to prove it,” Taylor said. “She has a sprained arm and bruised back just from this week.”

Green Hope’s Jessica can relate to that.

“I got a concussion last year – head to the ground,” she said. “But you get used to it. Life as a cheerleader.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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