Cheerin’ on up to the big time
By Cristina Kumka
STAFF WRITER | November 27,2012
Diane Baker photo
MRU’s Leslie Hixon, Anna Baker, Tara Conover and Gage Greeno were in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
NORTH CLARENDON — It’s not just toe touches and tumbling anymore.
Five Mill River Union High School cheerleaders — four girls and one boy — have advanced the school sport to the forefront, appearing in two different Thanksgiving Day parades last week.
Varsity cheerleaders Leslie Hixon, Anna Baker, Tara Conover and Gage Greeno appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City while freshman Shania Perham was in Philadelphia’s 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day parade.
Less than a week after appearing in two of the biggest national holiday celebrations, the student athletes said during practice Monday they wanted cheerleading to be recognized by everyone as a sport, and one of their less-assuming teammates agrees — the captain of the high school’s football team.
Greeno, a lineman for the Minutemen, jokingly said he joined the cheering squad for the girls. But then he gets serious and said his friends asked him to do it and be their “backspot” — the strong foundation in the back of a stunt that makes sure the flyers (girls sprung in the air) don’t land on their heads or necks.
It is a crucial position Greeno plays.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 225 pounds, he says he wants to pursue the sport in college, over football.
According to coach Jen Martin, Hofstra University, a Division 1 school, is in contact with Greeno, possibly to make him a member of their cheering squad in the future.
Cheerleading, according to the students, has an undeserved stigma.
It requires long practices to develop strength, tumbling skills, flexibility, stunting and good attitudes.
All five athletes were chosen to participate in the parades at a Universal Cheerleading Association camp in New York over the summer by recruiters from Spirit of America Productions, according to Anna Baker’s mother Diane Baker.
During their trip, the students embraced the sites and sounds of the city, visiting the Empire State Building and seeing The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Being from a small high school was to their advantage, Martin said, because most of the hundreds of cheerleaders in both parades were only the captains of their teams and the only ones chosen to go from their schools.
The five local students not only gained new friends, but the experience also “allowed them to step up their skill level and teach the rest of the squad,” Martin said.
“It also gives them an idea of what they want to implement when they get back home,” she said.
While the five students said they are aiming for a competitive win for Mill River this cheering season, their coach strives for something different.
“I want them to leave the mat knowing it was the best performance they could do,” Martin said.