Hour 4: 8:16 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21
Four cheer squad members gather in a tight circle on the red clay track that outlines the Rock Bridge football field. The gold sequins forming the face of the Rock Bridge Bruin twinkle on the back of their matching emerald and black zip-up jackets. With a count of one-two-up, three girls lace their hands together to form a human step to lift sophomore Mercedes Henderson into the air.
The group had practiced this maneuver before the game started as part of its warm-up routine.
Earlier, Henderson wobbled. Her left calf muscle spasmed as she tried to recover her balance. A flash of nervousness flitted across her face. Another cheerleader ran over to spot Henderson in case she started to fall. Coach Jessica Cook-Kendrick walked over to offer some advice. “OK, here’s what’s going on.”
For stunts like these, cheerleaders can be divided into two groups – fliers and base. The fliers are lifted and the bases do the lifting.
Henderson made the transition from base to flier this year.
After weeks of wobbling, Cook-Kendrick gave Henderson an ultimatum before the state competition on Oct. 1: One shot to stick the stunt or stay part of the base. Henderson stuck it.
But Henderson is having similar issues again tonight. It took three times in practice for her legs to remain steady. Although, when it really counts is when you are in front of the crowd, in their direct line of vision to the football field.
“Even if I hit it one time, something can go wrong,” Henderson said. “I’m nervous every time I go up.”
This time Henderson hits it. There is no flash of fear as she raises her left arm into the air and reaches with her right to grab the toe of her right sneaker. A confident smile spreads across her face.