February 6, 2010

Cheer squads put best foot forward

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

At the Lilac City Regional Cheer and Dance Championships, Spotlight Cheer Studios from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, perform their routine for the judges on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 in the Spokane Convention Center.
(Full-size photo)

Nobody had to tell the cheerleaders at the Lilac City Regional Cheer and Dance Championships Saturday in Spokane to B-E aggressive.

Hundreds of cheerleaders tumbled into the Spokane Convention Center to earn their spot among the region’s best. The competition was hosted by the PacWest Cheer Spirit Group.

“It’s, like, my dream to get a scholarship for cheering,” said Brianna Shirts, 11, who has been cheering since the first grade. She’s a member of the Northwest Cheer club in Post Falls.

Unlike school-sponsored cheerleading squads, those at Saturday’s competition are affiliated with local gyms where the sole purpose is to train cheerleaders for advanced levels of competition. Most gyms are members of the U.S. All Star Federation for cheerleading.

“A lot of high school kids who want to cheer in college seek out an All Stars team,” said Tara Fuchter, owner and coach at Build It Athletix in Spokane. Fuchter, a former Washington State University cheerleader, opened the gym two years ago in support of the growing sport of cheerleading.

“Ten years ago we had one or two All Star teams in Washington, now there are over 100,” Fuchter said.

All Star squads don’t cheer for school athletic teams. Instead, they create two-and-a-half-minute routines that include some traditional cheer elements, but mostly consist of a series of high-energy, fast-paced stunts, tosses and tumbling. Cheerleaders are divided by level, with degree of difficulty – which generally means higher tosses and more stunts – increasing with age.

“It’s intense,” said Tommy Elder, 17, a member of the Northwest Cheer team.

“I’ve always wanted to cheer since I saw the movie ‘Bring It On,’” he said. “I walked into the gym and knew this is where I was supposed to be.”

Northwest Cheer is owned by Jennifer Bassett, who grew up in Texas. Seeing the need for cheerleading in North Idaho, she opened her club eight years ago. Her daughter McKenna Bassett also is on the team.

“I started cheering when I was 3,” Jennifer Bassett said. “I’m in my 40s now and I don’t think I’ll ever stop cheering.”

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