Taking The Title

As the formation of dancers on the floor explodes into a series of perfectly executed, simultaneous back handsprings, one fact is clear to even the most casual of observers – cheerleading isn’t just girls with pom-poms anymore.

“Cheering, for those who compete nationally, isn’t what it used to be,” says Orson Sykes, owner and founder of the nationally acclaimed training facility, Twist and Shout. “It’s an athletic sport. It’s gymnastics. It’s acrobatics. You have to train all year, and you have to be very strong and very flexible to do it.”

The National Cheer Association (NCA) collegiate competitions bring the best of the country’s cheerleaders together to compete for the national championship every spring.

For the past three years, the title for the intermediate class has been won by Edmond’s own UCO co-ed cheer team, coached by David Owens with a winning routine choreographed by Sykes. This April at the NCA competition in Florida, UCO competed against 6,000 athletes from various Division I and Division II schools across the nation. Between their cheer and dance teams, UCO has won more than double the amount of national championships than any other school in the country.

At the 2009 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) international competition, UCO’s smaller, elite co-ed squad took second place in its division in a competition involving 450 teams from 40 different countries.

Edmond’s Twist and Shout is ranked 13th among the nation’s premier cheer gyms, according to American Cheerleader magazine. Since its opening, Twist and Shout’s all-star teams have won over 200 titles at various national championships.

Sykes has choreographed the UCO cheer team’s three minute routine for NCA competitions the past three years. The routine is a complicated combination of tumbling (gymnastics), cheer elements (arm movements, jumps), partner stunting (girls in the air) and dancing. All elements must mesh together to make one smoothly transitioning routine.
And smooth transitions and thinking outside the box is what Sykes’ style is all about. “If I feel like most people would do it this way, I try to do the exact opposite,” says Sykes. “I try to create a routine that best shows the team’s strengths, hides their weaknesses, and is a routine that I’d like to see. If I get excited about it, I know the crowd and judges will love it, too.”

The UCO squad often spends four months preparing one routine, says Coach Owens, who prepares the rest of the choreography for the team.

“UCO has really made a name for themselves in the competitive cheering field,” says incoming senior Brent Steele, who chose to come to UCO because of its well-established cheer program. “It’s amazing to step on the floor and realize people know who you are because you’re wearing UCO.”

The difference between cheering at games and competing nationally is huge, says Steele. “It’s three minutes of the hardest things we can do.”

“The feeling you have after you hit a perfect routine is amazing,” says senior Megan Branstetter, who’s been on the UCO squad for the past three years and cheered since she was in kindergarten. “You can feel the energy emanating from you and the crowd.”

Steele and Branstetter will serve as joint team captains for the upcoming year.

The guys on the co-ed squad have different responsibilities than the girls, explains Steele. “We’re not necessarily the pretty faces everyone sees. We’re the ones underneath the high tosses and the pyramids,” says Steele. “A lot of times, we’re responsible for the safety of the girls.”

Branstetter particularly enjoys stunting, the part of cheering that involves partners lifting and throwing fellow team members into the air. “You want to bring something to the competition that no one’s ever seen that makes them go ‘Wow!’ and gets the points.”

For more information about signing your kids up for classes at Twist and Shout, call 405-775-9491 or visit www.shouterspirit.com

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