Garner High’s Devin Clark loved cheerleading for the Trojans’ football and basketball teams, but the senior jumped at the chance to compete in stunt, Wake County Public School’s new high school sport.
Stunt is an extension of USA Cheer, which accredits the referee and the three official scorers who grade the execution of routines in the same way judges score gymnastics, ice skating or diving. The scores are based on executing an established routine, not a routine created by the team.
Clark offered a fundamental distinction from cheerleading.
“I’m competing against a team in stunt instead of cheering for my team in cheerleading,” she said, emphasizing competing. “I’m all smiles and I have to be peppy in cheerleading. I’m not smiling in stunt. I’m competing.”
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Apex swept the double dual meet stunt competition on Thursday, topping Green Hope 20-2 and Garner 17-4. Garner edged Green Hope 11-9.
So what is stunt?
Picture cheerleaders at a football game facing fans in the grandstands or on a basketball court before the bleachers performing jumps, tumbling, cartwheels and building pyramids with a body toss.
Then envision a high school gym configured similar to a wrestling match. A mat stretches across the middle of the court with the team benches at opposite ends with athletes and coaches occupying the folding chairs.
White lines down the middle of the mat separate the two competition sides. The referee calls out the team captains and coaches for a coin flip to determine which school is first to choose a routine; the routines are rated between one and six with six having the highest degree of difficulty.
The meet commences with the teams competing simultaneously on their side of the mat as they alternate choosing routines. The teams are judged on how well they execute the routine, much like divers are given points for how well they execute a dive.
The match is broken into four quarters with the judges scoring four four-girl routines in the first period, four five-girl routines in the second quarter and four eight-girl routines in the third period. There are two routines in the fourth quarter that combines the first three period activities.
This is the first year that Wake County has sponsored stunt.
Eleven of Apex’s 13 girls were on the football and basketball cheerleading squads, a group that won a state title in the fall.
“I like how people can take cheerleading more seriously with stunt,” said Apex senior Madi Yarish. “The stunts are harder than cheerleading, and you have to be in sync or you’ll have points deducted.”
On the other hand, Garner’s roster of 11 girls has four cheerleaders and Green Hope has three on its nine-player roster.
“Some of the girls felt they needed a break,” said Green Hope coach Billie Walls, “but I think stunt will gain in popularity with the competition side of it.”
Green Hope senior Haley Smith welcomed one more season.
“I wasn’t ready to give up cheerleading,” she said. “I love cheerleading and this was a chance to try a new experience.”
For Apex junior Johunna Gatlin, it’s a matter of enjoying the best of both worlds.
“The best part of cheerleading at a football game is cheering with the Cougar Crazies,” she said of the student fan section. “We’re high-spirited people, and the Cougar Crazies make everything more fun. What makes stunt so great is we’re cheering and competing for ourselves. We get to prove how hard we work and show what cheerleading really is.”
And what if the Cougar Crazies showed up at an Apex stunt match?
“That would be great,” Gatlin said, smiling. “That would be awesome.”