Cheer Pressure

Sunday, April 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s the Thursday afternoon before the Big Day, and Angela Pulis is almost ready.

She’s prepared for this day since September, when she joined a cheerleading and tumbling class in Columbia. Every Wednesday, she practices her movements and jumps. And all of this mid-March week, Angela and 15 other sixth- and seventh-grade girls at Hallsville Middle School have spent almost two hours a day in a pre-tryout clinic, because cheerleading tryouts are on Friday.

“I’m pretty nervous,” Angela says. “Under pressure, you just crack, and you can’t help but mess up.”

Angela sits on the floor outside the gym, holding an ice pack to her thigh after pulling a muscle in a toe touch. Her friends sit nearby and attentive, most as nervous as Angela.

“It’s kind of stressing… you have to be so sharp with your movements,” says Alison Beuer.

Some of the girls huddle in small groups as the afternoon kicks off. Today is mock tryouts day, a preview of tomorrow when they will be judged and graded and some will not become cheerleaders. The squad can accommodate up to 14 but doesn’t always take that many. They will be judged on their toe touches and other jumps, two chants and a cheer. Tumbling is optional. They will be graded on their poise, volume and accuracy.

“If you mess up, just keep going and try your hardest,” seventh-grader Lily Williams of Hallsville tells the rest of the group.

Amid the chatter and the shrill calls of “Come on Indians, let’s go! Come on Indians, let’s fight!” three sixth-graders stretch out each other’s legs.

“You grab this leg, and I’ll grab this one,” Wendy Hall instructs.

Her legs already so far apart she’s almost in a split, Lexi Smith raises her eyebrows as her friends approach.

“This is going to be fun,” Lexi says as they carefully take one ankle and push it out farther.

Girls follow older sisters' into cheerleading

Lexi, whose older sister is a cheerleader, is trying out at the suggestion of her mother.

“The reason I’m trying out is because my mom says I’m loud,” Lexi says. “I’m pretty flexible.”

“The cheerleading process is a way to earn friends, quoting my sister,” Wendy adds, whose sister also cheers. Both girls remember coming to the games just to watch the cheerleaders.

They’ve learned new chants and new cheers, made up routines, given tumbling a try and learned the importance of “spirit fingers.”

Amy Morrison, who runs the middle school squad, comes out to the hall to give advice to the rest of the girls.

“No ‘woos,’ ” she says. “I want to make sure you remember to spirit out there.” She demonstrates spirit fingers — hands up, palms forward, fingers wiggling — and the girls nod sagely. The next group runs to the floor, spirit fingers in the air, trying not to say “Woo!”

Older cheerleaders judge performance

Today three high-school cheerleaders grade them. The next group goes through their cheer, their chants, their toe touches and jumps and optional tumbling. As the judges furiously scribble down points and comments, the girls stand in formation, arms cocked on hips, absolutely silent. Through the closed gym doors, you can hear the rest of the girls, clapping, cheering and laughing and the light thuds as they land after jumping in.

“OK, Lily, can we see your toe touch?” one of the judges asks. She claps twice, stops, starts over again and does the splits in the air. Feet together and counting out, they go through the whole routine.

“Go Big Purple!” Clap, clap, clap. “Beat those Panthers!”

Morrison cuts in. “Stand like a cheerleader,” she yells.

Then it’s over, and they spirit-finger away. They survived mock tryouts, and, in just 24 hours, the real thing, the Big Day, will be over. They’ll be able to rest their muscles and voices — at least until practice starts.

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