GREENFIELD — Few sports require athletes to perform a variety of flips, jumps, dances, tumbles and cheers — all with a smile — in front of a panel of judges or large crowds of people.
In fact, there’s none besides cheerleading.
Competitive cheerleading, more specifically, requires a special breed of athlete. And the cheerleaders at Greenfield-Central are that and more — they’re some of the best in the state.
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Led by the school’s first all-state selection in senior Olivia McBride and first-year head coach Laken Peal, the Cougars made their first varsity competitive stunt group state finals, finishing fourth at Southport High School on Oct. 24.
This weekend, Greenfield-Central will take its entire squad to Lucas Oil Stadium for the state competition, where the team will compete in the coed division and McBride will perform in the varsity state competition.
The Cougars aren’t strangers to the highest level of competition, however, as the program won back-to-back titles (team) during the 2004-05 seasons, according to Peal, who also teaches English at the school. The rookie head coach, who was the assistant last season, is off to an impressive start in helping Greenfield-Central reach that level again.
For Peal, it comes natural. The Kentucky native was a three-sport athlete and competitive cheerleader herself in high school.
“I was on a competitive team of 22 girls. It was huge,” she said. “I played soccer and ran track, too. Something about cheerleading is unique and different in comparison to other sports. It targets every part of your body. It requires just as much mental strength as physical.
“I’m really competitive and enjoy all the challenges it creates. You can ask anybody, I am like 100 percent school spirit.”
Nonetheless, it’s not easy to push a program to the top in just one year. Peal simply raised expectations.
For example: If a member wants to compete on the mat, they must be able to perform a standing back tuck (back flip with no hands).
“That’s a first this year,” Peal said. “We will be doing this from now on.”
But what makes the fourth-place finish at Southport even more impressive is the fact there are no divisions separating small schools from the much larger ones. So in reality, the Cougars finished fourth out of every school in the state with a stunt team, which was hundreds according to Peal.
Members of the top stunt team in school history include McBride, senior Valerie Davidson, juniors Ava Dickman and Makenzie Horning, and freshman Kloe Shockley.
None of Peal’s success would be possible without such a dedicated team, who spent hours during the summer doing conditioning for the first time in their careers — another expectation set forth by Peal. Although it was a foreign concept, the hard work paid off. And none benefited more than McBride — naturally the heart and soul of the team from her base position.
“We had two-a-day practices over the summer,” Peal explained. “The first part was conditioning, and the second was more cheer-based activities. We worked out every muscle. The girls seemed to like it, some even asked if they could come back and do it again next year.”
Peal even described McBride as having the best “cheer brain” on the squad, readily able to come up with routines quickly, which proved valuable in her all-state selection process.
Candidates must perform a routine in front of judges that they themselves must choreograph and practice. Scoring is based on routine, jumps and personality to name a few. The actual list is much longer, however.
“I am able to put things together easily,” McBride explained, who actually started in gymnastics at the age of 3. “I came up with this (state) routine within a few days. I’ve watched many all state individuals in the past and wanted to be one so bad.”
What does this mean for McBride’s future though?
A certain college has been on the senior’s wish list since she was a young girl. Her dream might become a reality soon, as McBride has been talking to an assistant coach from Indiana University.
“IU is my dream and my goal,” McBride said. “I am working really hard to make it there.”
She’s done her part so far. Becoming the program’s first all-state selection isn’t a bad way to impress college coaches.
Greenfield-Central will be performing its state routine in front of the school today, allowing the team one last tuneup before for its biggest day of the season.
Preliminary rounds will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium with the finals to begin later at 7:30 p.m. Awards for preliminary rounds will take place in between at around 5 p.m. with the top-five teams of each division earning a spot in the finals.
“Hopefully we’re there until 10 p.m.,” Peal said. “That’s the goal. You either make the finals or you’re done.”