High school football and high school cheerleading both begin in August. Both teams practice every day, both are put on display on Friday nights and both strive to keep competing late into November.
But while football teams have 10 regular season games and, if all goes well, the postseason to show the results of all the work, it comes down to less than 3 minutes for cheerleaders.
“We start working on a routine in August,” said Woodrow Wilson cheerleading coach Laura Zutaut. “You have to have a cheer, which is less than 40 seconds, and a 2-minute, 30-second dance that includes tumbling and stunts. The easiest way to say it is that it’s three months of practice for one foul shot. It’s one penalty kick, one Hail Mary pass, one shot. You can do it 100 times correct, miss it one time and all that work is for nothing.”
The Flying Eagles’ sank that foul shot last week, and the ball touched nothing but net.
For the first time since 2004 — and the first time since regions were expanded from seven teams to 11 teams in 2006 — Woodrow Wilson will participate in the state tournament, which will be held Dec. 13 at the Charleston Civic Center. The Flying Eagles punched their ticket by capturing the Class AAA Region 3 title on Nov. 9, finishing ahead of Capital, George Washington, Greenbrier East, Oak Hill, Princeton, Ripley, Riverside, Shady Spring and South Charleston.
Eight teams will participate in the state tournament in Class AAA, the top two from each of the state’s four regions.
“It’s like a dream come true for a cheerleader,” said senior Britteny Durham, who ran and grabbed the plaque when the winners were announced. “We work so hard for it. Winning regionals is something I’ve always wanted. It was the happiest moment of my life, basically.”
Woodrow’s team includes only three seniors and has had to combat both youth and injuries to reach states.
“We have three seniors, and we had a key junior tear an ACL,” said Zutaut, in her fourth year at Woodrow after 23 years at Park Middle School. “We had another key junior with a back injury, and we had to replace them with freshmen. They’ve stepped up to the plate, and we’ve become a really good team.”
The team includes senior Raekwon Timmons, the only male on a squad full of females. Timmons — an unofficial coach, who his coaches said studies cheerleading like it’s a science — taught himself to tumble at a young age by watching YouTube videos and then heading to his backyard to try to repeat the performance.
“It means everything,” said Timmons, who is hoping to continue the sport at Louisville or Marshall. “I’ve wanted to go (to states) since I was in 10th grade. We’ve worked hard.”
That hard work, the cheerleaders said, is one of the biggest misconceptions about the sport.
“We work just as hard as any other sport,” said junior Tori Hashimura. “Cheerleading is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to be as good as you can be.”
The competition floor is their chance to shine, but it’s not their only responsibility. They also are called upon to cheer on the other athletic teams at the school, as well as performing at pep rallies and other events, all on top of the competition preparation.
“We have to remember a lot of stuff,” said Hashimura, who has been cheering for nine years. “We have 100 sidelines and everything to do with our competition routine. It’s not easy.”
And the Flying Eagles’ success seems to be helping to spread that message.
“They really look at us like we can do something now,” said Hashimura of her classmates’ reaction to the regional title. “People hate cheerleading and think what we do at football games is what we do on the competition floor. I’m glad they realize now what we really do.”
The Woodrow Wilson team includes Kalie Zaferatos, Timmons, Durham, Amber Fazio, Chelsey Peters, Taylor Childers, Haley Weaver, Keeley Kidd, Megan Bahr, Hashimura, Maddie Thompson, Maggie Cook, Ashley Amtower and McKalah Martin. Zutaut is assisted by Megan Shea and Sherri Shumate.
— E-mail: chuffman