Competitive Cheerleading a Life-Changer, Team Members Say

There’s more to competitive cheerleading than performing heart-stopping extended split stunts and the toe touch basket toss. Godwin Height High School team members say the sport literally changes lives.

Just ask eleventh-grader Joy Parker.

“I was failing all my classes before coachgave me a place to relieve stress,” she said.

This stunt is called the “toe touch basket toss to a cradle catch”Joy said she was considering dropping out of school, but the friendships she has forged with her teammates has enabled her to tunnel through her troubles.

“I didn’t think I could graduate,” Joy said. “Cheering saved my life. This team is my life, my family. It has given me hope.”

Tenth-grader April Martinez joined the team in November because she’s outgoing and cheerful, which convinced her that competitive cheerleading would be a good fit. Her hunch didn’t disappoint.

But competitive cheerleading also has been an eye-opener. Before she joined, April assumed cheerleading would be a cakewalk. Far from it. But it’s that inherent challenge competitive cheerleading requires that ensures April shows up for each practice and competition.

It Takes Strength, Stamina

“You have to have strength and stamina,” April said. “It’s a lot of work, commitment and time. If you try your best, you can do it. Coach has taught us if you can dream it, you can do it.”

“Coach” is Amanda Cook, one of the 25-member varsity cheerleading team (grades 9-12) and 30 sideline cheerleaders seen at football games. Godwin’s team competes against Lee, Kelloggsville, Hopkins, Calvin Christian and NorthPointe Christian.

It’s competitive cheerleading that gets the heart pumping, Cook said.

Competitive cheerleading is judged for cheer creativity; emotion and voice strength; skills in executing splits, tumbles and jumps; and “stunting,” which ranges from the two-legged variety to one-legged extended stunts and high-flying basket tosses.

Like Any Other Sport

Make no mistake, Godwin’s cheerleaders consider competitive cheerleading a sport just as much as shooting hoops or running on the gridiron.

“We run like other athletes,” said tenth-grader Najha Lofton, who’s been cheering for four years. “We have to lift bodies in the air. You get tired. You still have to work as hard as other athletes.”

Najha likes that challenge. She also appreciates how it helped her overcome her fear of flying – in an airplane.

“I’m very determined to get things done,” Najha said. “I used to have a fear of flying in a plane or roller coaster. Not anymore. I love tumbling. It’s my favorite part. I’m really flexible, so that helps.”

Coach Cook said being involved in cheerleading often surprises those on the team.

“A lot of the girls don’t consider themselves athletes and after one season, they really see themselves as athletes,” she said. “We really do lift weights and run laps. I’ve had seven girls play soccer for first time this year because they were too afraid to join until they joined the cheerleader team.”

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