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Seniors influence cheer success

As the cheer squad takes center stage, lights dim and the squad settles into position. At an instant the music starts and Heather Neel, ’07, rises to a scorpion position. With a seemingly flawless routine, the judge?s stare to find mistakes.

?It never really bugged me too much that people are staring at me constantly,? Neel said. ?I think it is because when I was younger I started taking dance classes and gymnastic performances. I got used to people watching me, but from time to time I get nervous with huge crowds.?

Neel began gymnastics at a young age to follow in the footsteps of her mother. Her passion for tumbling later drove her to try out for cheer her freshman year.

“Heather has always been talented,” Katie Mendenhall, cheer coach, said. “She has gained strength and confidence over the years. When she started she was just as adorable as she is now.”

Parents influence, support Neel’s beginning

At a young age, Neel’s parents supported her dedication. Although her mom influenced her gymnastics, Neel does not feel pressure. She tries to improve with every practice and every four year she watches the Olympic gymnastics for their routines.

“I would drive her and other girls to away competitions to support Heather,” Vicki Neel said. “I would attend all performances and come with my cheer mom shirt on ready to support. I love to watch Heather and the girls cheer but sometimes I get nervous for the safety of the girls, especially when they would do large stunts.”

Even though her career in gymnastics started at two, as she got older, Heather began to take classes at Break the Barriers.

“At the age of two I just played around with gymnastics,” Neel said. “Then at about seven or eight, I actually started taking classes; I have always really loved just flipping around.”

High school cheer career escalates with experience

Neel made varsity her sophomore year of high school and was a nominee for the All-American cheer squad. In addition, she was invited to be part of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleader (FCC) staff.

“The best memory I have is probably when we were Grand Champions of the Capital Classic cheer competition in November,” Neel said. “My worst memory was when I was tumbling and landed on my head. It had just finished raining and the grass was still wet. This girl was tumbling so Taryn (Brown, ?08) told me to tumble, so I did.”

Neel plans to attend Fresno State University in the fall.

“I think cheer has made me a more outgoing person, especially in the work place,” Neel said. “Cheer has helped me learn to balance my life. I know that I must keep up my grades and continue to still do homework if I want to stay in cheer.”

While Neel anticipates college, returning underclassmen hope to follow her example.

“Heather is such a sweet person,” Brown said. “She is a great flyer and has great jumps. Tumbling with her is just so much fun and she is always there to talk to. I am so glad that she is a part of our team.”

Neel believes a positive attitude is vital for any cheerleader, regardless of win or loose.

“I think it is fun and exciting to be a cheerleader,” Neel said. “When our sports teams are losing, we cheer and try to bring them up. That is probably the most rewarding feeling.”

The varsity cheer squad can be seen stunting and performing their routines on the videos page of The Feather.

Captain creates squad’s base

Although Neel is seen doing most stunts, the squad relies on all members for safety in execution.

“Both girls (Neel and captain Anna Lynne Graham, ’07) have done an outstanding job bringing this team to the level they are at,” Mendenhall said. “Each girl brings her own unique talent and style to the team. I love to watch all of the personalities mesh together; that is what makes us strong.”

Graham joined the JV cheer squad her sophomore year. Although she competed in varsity competitions, she has officially been one of the varsity bases for two years.

“I joined cheer because Christie Belden (’06) dared me to,” Graham said. “Christie was helping a friend try out for the Clovis West cheer team and I mentioned that I would never do it in a million years. I had played club and school volleyball since fifth grade and that was what I wanted to do through high school.

“I told my parents that I wanted to cheer and they said ‘no’,” Graham said. “Later they decided to let me try out because they thought that I wouldn’t make it. When I did, they were shocked and so was I; I have cheered ever since.”

Graham influences squad

Fellow cheerleaders believe Graham’s positive attitude motivates them to try harder to enhance the team?s talent.

“Anna is an amazing back base,” Brown said. “She always has a positive attitude no matter what. I look up to her as my captain for that.”

Mendenhall states a base requires strength and a willingness to sacrifice for the safety of the flyer. The base must also be confident to maintain mental and physical focus.

“I would be scared to be in the air but I am confident in my position,” Graham said. “I have trust in myself, even though bases are not as recognized as flyers; we know we are amazing.”

Although Neel may continue cheer in college, Graham wishes to pursue a career in nursing.

“My worst memory from cheer was when Akiko Work (?06) broke her ankle walking on stage at the FCC West Coast Championships last year,” Graham said. “Although Akiko breaking her ankle was my worst memory, my best memory was at Florida last year at the FCC Nationals. A lot of team bonding took place and that was a great learning experience.”

Neel and Graham will compete for their final time at the Clovis West Showcase on March 10 at 11:45 A.M. For more information regarding the squad’s previous competitions, click here on Brittany Lauber’s Feb. 26, 2007, article, “Cheer places 2nd behind rival.” For a team photo check out FCC West Coast red ribbon team.

“I think Anna is an amazing base and always has a good attitude,” Whitney Stipe, ’08, said. “Heather is an amazing flyer and tumbler; our team would not be as good without them.”

Cheerleading try-outs will be in the FC gym, March 6-9. For further information check out Marielle Derosier’s March 5, article, “Expectations increase for cheer try-outs.”

For more information, check The Fresno Bee as they are scheduled to run a feature article the varsity cheer squad in the Life section on March 8.

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