Season ends on high note for Robins youth cheerleaders

  • Published
  • By Holly Birchfield
  • 78 ABW/PA
Keeping a crowd of people happy is no easy task - just ask the girls on the Robins youth cheerleading squad.

The squad of 7- to 12-year-old girls, many who come from active-duty military families, went all out during this year's football season to keep players' spirits high and crowds roaring.

Stephanie Oxendine, co-coach of the squad, said the group's 15 girls put their hearts and souls into perfecting cheers and routines.

"They're hard workers," she said. "They learned five dance routines, some of them within the first day. When we came back to review them, they knew them."

Mrs. Oxendine said the girls started practicing in mid-August and by their team's first football game, they had learned two of the five dances they would perform for fans this season.

"They learn quickly," she said. "I'm so impressed with those girls. The older ones will pick up really fast, but the 7 and 8 year olds are awesome. They pick up the cheers, the movements, and the dances (incredibly well)."

To help the girls along, Mrs. Oxendine, who draws from her experience of being a cheerleader in middle school, performed the squad's cheers and dance routines on video and made CDs of music for the squad to take home and follow.

Jywanya Dillinger, co-coach of the squad, worked with Mrs. Oxendine and assistant coach Kristin Howell to help the girls reach their full potential.

"Our goal was to give them the groundwork or foundation for what cheerleading is like when you get older," she said. "We don't expect at this age that they know how to do it all, but we give them the safety guidelines, the teamwork and how to work as a group, just so they can use that when they go forward."

Getting the hang of cheerleading was easier for some than for others, Mrs. Oxendine said.

"Some of them came in there with no experience whatsoever and ended up learning all they could," she said. "They've learned about 25 to 30 cheers and five dance routines. Some of them were very shy."

Other girls appeared to be naturals though.

"I totally love that these girls were ready to go and gung-ho about everything," Mrs. Oxendine said. "They wanted to cheer some more whenever the games were over. They wanted to pump up the football players. They wanted to pump up the crowd, especially when the crowd got involved. It was just so loud. The crowd would actually cheer with our cheerleaders and that was just awesome for them."

Mrs. Dillinger, who was a high school cheerleader, said having such a diverse group kept things interesting.

"It was challenging not only because their skill levels were different, but their age levels were different," she said. "For instance, with some of their dances that we did, the girls that were 11 and 12 could catch on (quickly), but then with the younger girls, you had to walk through a lot slower."

One thing is for sure though. These girls are all about showing their spirit.

Aryanna Oxendine, a 10-year-old fifth grader at Lake Joy Elementary School and cheerleader on the squad, said she admits she's a bit shy, but she drops her timid ways when she picks up her pom-poms.

"It takes concentration and a lot of practice to be a good cheerleader," she said. "You have to really work hard to have a big voice."

J'Nquala Hayes, a 10-year-old homeschooled fifth grader on the squad, said cheerleading gives her a chance to expand her already extensive involvement in sports.

"I like cheering for people," she said. "I thought cheerleading would be fun and I thought I would get to interact with other kids because I don't usually (get to do that much)."

J'Nquala, who has been cheering in some fashion since she was 5, said cheering the Robins Falcons on to win their football championship game at the 2007 Optimist Bowl had her jumping for joy.