Cheerleaders keep faith in morals

By Shannon Jenkins

There's a reason the girls with poms poms are called cheerleaders.

At Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, the squads focus on leadership, whether they're guiding the crowd in a cheer or representing their faith.

In a time where cheerleading routines have raised eyebrows for being too sexually suggestive, the McDonough girls rely on big smiles, athletics and positive attitudes to impress crowds and encourage team players. The Texas House of Representatives recently made headlines by approving a bill to ban risqu– cheerleading routines. However, national news media have reported the bill is expected to die in the Senate.

Squad members at Eagle's Landing said sexy routines aren't an issue at their school.

"Our routines are made up to involve the crowd more than they are for us to show off," said 15-year-old Jamee Etheridge, the junior varsity captain for next year. "Our goal is to be leaders and positive influences both at our school and others."

Without the provocative routines and cheers, Etheridge said the squad is able to stand out in a way that "makes people wonder why we are so different."

"And then we are provided with the opportunity to tell others that the reason we are different is because of our faith in Christ," she said.

Etheridge, who started cheering three years ago, said the squad is effective without all the brow raising.

"We can have a great time and put on some awesome routines to get the crowd excited by being all smiles and putting off a joyous energy," she said. "We are conservative in the way we dress and the way we perform, but we accomplish our goal of leading the crowd and glorifying our Lord and Savior."

Rising senior Mandie Huggins said the routines aren't about the cheerleaders.

"We don't go out there to get people to notice us," the 16-year-old said. "We go out there to pump up the fans which will ultimately pump up the players. A routine can still be awesome and get the fans excited without being suggestive or immodest. No other sports teams go before their fans doing sexy things, so why should cheerleaders?"

Huggins said she enjoys cheerleading because it allows her the opportunity to reach out to others.

"The athletic aspect is definitely there, but our most important goal is not to have the biggest pyramids or the highest toe-touches but to encourage the players," she said. "Cheerleading is definitely a team sport which means that we are always there for each other. We pray for each other, talk with one another and build each other up."

And when it comes to facing off with squads from other schools, 17-year-old Whitney Smith said it's not all about the competition.

"We always pray with the other teams' cheerleaders before the games and try to be a good witness to them," she said.

Michelle Holland, one of the Eagle's Landing cheerleading coaches, said the squad members are "awesome athletes who desire to use their skills to glorify God."

"Our cheer mission at (Eagle's Landing Christian Academy) is to glorify God in our service to the players by encouraging them, the fans by leading them and the school by representing it," Holland said. "Whatever we do, we will do it all to the glory of God."

Holland said approximately 170 cheerleaders make up the school's 13 football squads and three basketball squads, with programs extending from kindergarten through 12th grade.

With school over, the girls will use the summer to prepare for upcoming games next year.

Christian Cheerleaders of America representatives will offer a private camp for the Eagle's Landing students this summer with camps ranging from one to three days.

Clayton County girls also will attend a cheerleading clinic later this summer in preparation for the Clayton County Youth Football League's upcoming season. And sexually suggestive cheerleading routines does not seem to be a problem at the Riverdale Recreation Center.

"The best to my knowledge, we don't let any of the girls do any of those sexually suggestive cheers," Riverdale Park sports coordinator Bill Boyd said. Boyd also sits on the CCYFL board, which also oversees 75 cheerleading squads for the 88 recreational football teams. Members of the cheerleading squads are between the age of 5 and 14, and are divided by age group.

"We do realize this is for kids. There's no place for that kind of stuff," he said.

Boyd said the cheerleaders wear bloomers underneath their uniform skirts, which stop right above the knee. He also said the tops stop at the top of the skirt. "There is no midriff stuff," Boyd said.

– Staff writer Aisha I. Jefferson contributed to this article.