AP NEWS

Cheer competition gets Grand Wayne thumping

February 17, 2019

Tosses, turns, touching of toes, hair bows, chants, flips, bass-driven dance music, makeup and sparkles. Lots of sparkles.

All were on display Saturday at Grand Wayne Center, where the facility hosted Speedy Jam. The daylong cheerleading and dance competition drew hundreds of participants from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio : many who wore teased hair adorned with bows and bright, shiny outfits on stage.

The event, one of dozens organized by Louisville, Kentucky-based JamFest Cheer and Dance Events, also brought proud parents who crowded the event center to watch their children : mostly girls : dance, strut, toss and be tossed.

Sherri Patterson angled for a good spot to capture video of her daughter’s cheer team, Ice Storm of Westfield. Patterson said 16-year-old Emma has been cheering since she was 8.

“It’s hard work,” she said as the team took the stage to applause and beats thumping from speakers overhead. “You’ve got to put in the practice. It teaches them discipline.”

Perhaps more important than that, Patterson said, there’s a sense of camaraderie among teammates.

“It’s a family,” she said.

Cheering began in the 19th century, when Princeton and Rutgers universities formed “pep clubs” to encourage their sports teams, according to Varsity.com, a website that tracks cheerleading news. The sport has grown in recent years, with competitions featured on ESPN.

The National Cheerleading Association’s annual All Star National Championship regularly draws more than 1,000 teams and 25,000 participants.

Its popularity was evident Saturday, as cheerleaders practiced their routines in corridors and empty conference rooms. Parents, siblings and friends of those competing : some wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts bearing the names of their favorite cheerleader : stood by to watch.

Nathan Lytle of Bluffton posed for pictures with his daughter, 8-year-old Makayla of Indianapolis, as she clutched a bouquet given to her after the competition. Her team finished second in its division in Makayla’s first time competing.

“We’ve been working on it,” she said, referring to her routine.

Nearby, Rylie Senefeld, 10, sat on the floor while her mother, Tina, and sister, Hannah, all of Noblesville, worked to prepare her for an afternoon competition. Hannah, 15, carefully applied Rylie’s eye makeup while their mother straightened her hair.

“We’re kind of multi-tasking here,” Tina Senefeld said, smiling.

Cheering has become a family affair. Hannah started as a child, and Rylie has been training since October for this weekend’s competition.

“I did gymnastics when I was little,” Hannah said, “and a lot of my friends did (cheering). I love to compete.”

JamFest events also were held this weekend in Kansas City, Missouri, and Evansville. The next event is Feb. 24 in Mississippi.

mleblanc@jg.net