LIMA — For each of the cheerleaders going for broke Saturday during their performances at the 31st annual Allen County Fair Cheerleading Competition, what they do is more than simply smile and wave pompoms.
“Cheerleading is a sport,” Shawnee cheer adviser Kim Weis said. “I hear so much that it isn’t, but it is. We compete and we go against other squads. For the fair, we’ve been practicing since June. We’ve put a lot of time and sweat into this.”
“We work hard and practice every day just like other sports,” Elida adviser Laurie Swick said. “These are true athletes.”
Some of the cheerleaders could be seen performing while wearing protective equipment such as knee braces, a testament to how hard they train. For some of the squads, they had very little time to perfect their performances.
“We only get together for a couple of weeks to put this together,” Swick said. “Our football squad is already working on football, so they’ve been doing double time getting ready for this competition.”
For the seniors taking part in this year’s competition, there was some sadness in knowing this will be their last time in front of the grandstands, but that also made them more determined to go out on a high note.
“We’re ready to take it on and go all out for our last year,” Shawnee senior Zoe Morse said.
While the cheerleaders are usually on the sidelines supporting their respective school’s sports teams, it felt good for the competitors to have the role reversed, with them being the center of attention.
“It feels good to have the attention on us and have the football team come out and support us,” Shawnee senior Olivia Layman said.
“It’s exciting, but it’s a little nerve-wracking too,” Elida senior cheerleader and mascot Olivia Smith said. “You’re normally surrounded by other people, but here, they’re all in front of you. But we still go out and have a lot of fun.”
For one school, this competition was their first after a long absence.
“This is our first time back here in more than five years,” Lima Senior adviser Atrista Gooden said. “I used to be a Lima Senior cheerleader and I remember competing. We definitely wanted to bring the girls back out here to get a taste of competition and see the other teams.”
With a renewed focus on bringing a sense of pride back to Lima Senior, Gooden’s efforts, along with fellow adviser Dannisha Walton, fit right in with that philosophy.
“We want to bring a postive face back to the school. We want to bring back some of that Spartan pride.”
Sophomore Jelisa Austin was grateful for the chance to get into competition and to help strengthen that resurgence of school spirit.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” she said. “We know our cheerleaders haven’t had a great reputation, but we want to show everyone that we are the new Lima Senior cheerleaders and we’re coming.”
For all the schools represented at Saturday’s competition, they owe a vital part of the student experience to their cheerleading squads, according to Swick.
“I think none of the sports at our schools would be the same without us there,” she said.