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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Stunting to a Region Competitive Cheer Title

Highlands Heads to State for First Time Since 2014

By G. Michael Graham

Tonya Bolton. The Highlands cheerleading squad celebrates with a Region 9 Co-Ed Class A title at Ryle on Saturday. 
While they are seen mostly firing up the crowd during football and basketball games, the Highlands cheerleaders put in a lot of time to perfect the craft.

Highlands varsity cheerleader coach Carly Leopold said the squad practices about 10 hours per week then has football games in the fall and basketball games in the winter. Competitive Cheer has been recognized as a Kentucky High School Athletic Association sport since 2012.

In early November, Highlands ventured to Ryle for the Co-Ed Class A Region 9 championship and won it scoring 75 out of a possible 100 points beating Newport to go to the state tournament. Highlands performed a higher difficulty of routines.

Highlands also won first place in the Northern Kentucky Cheerleading Coaches Association Co-Ed A class. Class A is the smallest of six divisions. Teams are placed in divisions depending on how many boys are on the team. Highlands has 23 girls and three boys on the floor for competitive cheer.

"I think going into this year, I knew that this group was an exceptionally special group," Leopold said. "A lot of them, I've been working with for four years now. Working with them throughout the summer, I knew they were working hard."

Highlands has eight senior girls participating in competitive cheer and nine overall. The captains are Ashlee Duncan, Hannah Kimble and Laura Haupt. Juniors Will Bertsch and Dave Herfel help anchor the stunts. Kimble also won an individual scholarship. The amount is to be determined. Kimble and Duncan were alternates as freshmen.

"There are a lot of minds coming together to give their opinion just trying to make this team more positive," Kimble said. "We want everyone to come together as one team rather than a bunch of small teams. It's sweat and tears every practice."

Burch has been on the squad since his freshman year. Leopold said the team has added few more boys this year.

"I think that girls feel really safe with these big boys around them," Leopold said. "All of our boys are over six-feet tall. They are able to catch a little bit higher. They're a little bit stronger. My flyers on top are willing to try harder skills because they know that these strong boys will be there to catch them. I got blessed to have such amazing, down-to-Earth boys. Working with them has been such a treat."

Teams perform for 2.5 minutes. The music portion lasts for 1.5 minutes. It includes stunting tumbling, pyramids and jumps before the traditional crowd-leading cheers take place.

"For the competition, it's about all of us working together," Bertsch said. "For the (Platforms), it's both people working as one. I can throw her up and put her up there. But if she doesn't lock her leg up, she's going to come down. If she's really tight and locks her leg, it stays up there and we can hold it forever. Two halves make a whole."

One difficult routine teams often perform is platforms. That consists of boys holding both feet in one hand.

The state competition takes place on Dec. 9 at Kentucky Horse Park. Highlands last went down there in 2014.

"I think what's best about this group is they're able to adapt when things get thrown their way and not sweat about it," Leopold said. "For instance, one of our top girls wasn't able to compete on Saturday. So we had to throw in one of our alternates and she was able to fill in 100 percent in the way that I wanted her to."

Highlands will also participate in the Universal Cheerleading Association Nationals on Saturday. The team won a bid to go to nationals in Orlando last year, but decided not to go.

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