When Reagan Carr was in middle school, she joined the cheerleading squad and thought it was a pretty big deal.
Now a freshman at Columbus North, Carr never gave cheering for the Bull Dogs serious consideration.
She’s still cheering, mind you — but not in the traditional rah-rah sense. Carr is a member of the Senior Level 3 cheer team for the Columbus Power Elite, a competitive All-Star cheer team that features area girls ages 4 to 18.
Had she been cheering for Columbus North, Carr likely would have spent the weekend of Jan. 16 and 17 rooting on the boys basketball team against Mooresville and Noblesville. Instead, she and her Power Elite teammates were in Indianapolis winning a national championship.
The Columbus Power Elite Senior Level 3 team won their division at the JAMfest Cheer Super Nationals, earning a gold bid to the U.S. Finals, the most prestigious event in competitive cheering. That will take place in Chicago on April 16 and 17.
How to stunt
Though there are members of the Power Elite program who cheer for their schools, competitive cheerleading doesn’t bear much resemblance to what you see cheer squads doing at high school basketball games.
It’s more like the “Bring It On” movies — pyramids, stunts, explosive tumbling runs and girls getting launched into the air.
“It’s not your typical kind of cheerleading,” Columbus Power Elite owner Krea Hill said.
Many of the girls come in with backgrounds in some sort of related activity, whether it be dance, gymnastics or figure skating. Carr skated for seven years, and she said she believes it has helped her immensely with competitive cheering.
“When I was really young, I was a stick,” she said. “I gained so much muscle from skating in my legs, and that helps so much in cheerleading.”
While those other activities may help build a base of physical skills, just about everyone coming into the Power Elite program faces a learning curve.
“They come in basically not knowing a lot,” Hill explained, “and we kind of mold them and shape them to have technique and things like that.”
Some get shaped more quickly than others. The youngest member of the Senior Level 3 team, Jacynda Corya, is just 11 years old — but she’s earned her place.
“She was not put on the team just because she’s small and we can throw her up in the air easy and get a bunch of points,” said Madison Hatfield, another Columbus North freshman on the squad. “She has the last pass in tumbling, because she has the prettiest tumbling you’ve ever seen.”
Though the coaches can teach stunts, one thing they can’t fully shape is a team’s confidence. That has to grow organically — and getting a taste of victory certainly helps.
A year ago, the Senior Level 3 girls weren’t able to get over the hump and win any events. This season, however, they managed to win their first competition, and armed with a newfound belief in themselves, they haven’t lost since.
“Last season, at best we would get fourth, and it was heartbreaking because we wanted a trophy so bad,” Hatfield said. “But this season, we just went to our first competition and won, and then we were like, ‘Oh, maybe we can do this.’
“Our confidence went up a ton this season.”
Columbus’ Junior Level 3 team, which also took first place in their division at the JAMfest Super Nationals, will also compete in The U.S. Finals.
In the past, just going to compete would have been enough for the girls on the Senior Level 3 team, but this group is headed to the U.S. Finals with the intent of bringing home some hardware.
“Last year we would have been like, ‘There’s no way we could win this,'” Carr said, “and this year we’re actually thinking we have a chance. There’s a very good possibility we’ll win.”
A quick guide to some of the basic terms used in competitive cheerleading:
All-Star team: A competitive cheer team not associated with a school or team. Most, like Columbus Power Elite, are affiliated with a cheer gym.
Base: The person or persons in a stunt group who toss the flyer in the air and catch her safely on the way down.
Flyer: The person leaving the ground during a stunt.
Pyramid: Two or more connected stunt groups built no more than two and a half body lengths high.
Spirit fingers: Wiggling the fingers while the arms are raised as if signaling a touchdown.
Sticking it: Executing a stunt, tumbling run or routine perfectly.
Stunt: Any trick involving a flyer being supported by one or more bases at least half a body length above the ground.
Tumbling: Any gymnastic skill used in a cheer routine.