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Austin High preparing to cheer

By Bayne Hughes
DAILY Education Writer 340-2432

The energy generated from hundreds of peppy girls and guys at a national cheerleading competition could light up Disney World's Space Mountain.

The Austin High School varsity cheerleaders hope to harness a little of this power and turn it into a winning routine when they compete Feb. 12-13 in the Universal Cheerleading Association's non-building national competition in Orlando, Fla.

"There's so much energy there it's almost scary," said Candice Tittle, one of five juniors on a senior-less Austin squad.

The Lady Bears are hoping experience will help them remain calm in the midst of this electrical storm of emotion. This is their fifth trip to Orlando as they try to top their third-place finish of a year ago.

Junior Liz Breeden said she taught herself how to focus on the routine. She even practices her focus techniques before she falls asleep at night.

"The atmosphere there is just like the movie, 'Bring It On,' " Breeden said. "There are girls everywhere, and there's so much energy. I try to get off by myself, concentrate and go through the routine in my head."

Decatur City Schools is one of only three school systems in Alabama that do not allow cheerleaders to build human pyramids as part of their routines. Instead, the non-building squads fill their 2-minute routines with tumbling, jumping, dancing, cheering and energy — lots of energy.

Austin won the Alabama High School Association's state title against three Mobile teams Dec. 4 in Hanceville.

The only non-building team at the UCA regional Dec. 12 in Tuscaloosa, the Lady Bears scored an 86, surpassing the 80 required to qualify for the national competition.

Austin went retro for its routine, using an '80s music mix of hip-hop, rhythm and blues, rock and pop.

The cheerleaders agreed their major emphasis in preparing is getting their cheer signs right, making their facial expressions shine and involving the crowd in their routine.

"Crowd participation is a major part of our score," Junior Cicely Gray said.

While cheer signs seem like a minor issue, they said a sign mistake cost them the national championship last year. A couple of signs were out of order, so they lost 17 points and finished 14 points behind the winner.

"We're facing that problem head-on," Breeden said. "We added even more signs this year, because we want to show that we came back not scared of the thing that hurt us."

Members of the squad are juniors Breeden, Gray, Tittle, Melissa Ford and Whitney Gibbs; sophomores Amanda Boyd, Taryn Hill, Julie Etheridge, Molly Smith, Shelley Pensworth, Jordan Villareal, Maegan Summerford and Abby Sibley; and freshmen Taylor Allen, Crystal Deuel, Kamesha Ross, Hannah Wirey and Kelsi Pickens. Tara Murphy is the school sponsor. Her assistants are Ressa Vafeas and Dana Gladden.

Austin leaves for Orlando on Feb. 9.

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