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Cape Fear, Gray’s Creek win state titles in NCHSAA Cheerleading Invitational

Plus: my prediction for Friday's state championship football game

Amey Shook, who coaches the cheerleading squad for Cape Fear High School, thinks much has changed with what squads like hers do.
She also thinks the general public and the fans at the games only see a fraction of what today’s cheerleaders are involved with.
“A decade ago, we were just standing on the sidelines, cheering our hearts out,’’ she said.
The same squads today perform intricate stunts, do complex routines and actively compete to improve their craft.
Recently a pair of Cumberland County cheerleading squads earned special recognition for themselves in the only cheerleading competition officially sanctioned by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Last Saturday at the Raleigh Convention Center, squads from Cape Fear and Gray’s Creek won state titles in the annual NCHSAA Cheerleading Invitational.
Shook’s Cape Fear varsity team took first place in the category of performance cheer varsity coed non-tumbling in the large division while the Gray’s Creek junior varsity of Katrinia Warren earned the title in performance cheer junior varsity non-tumbling.
The cheerleading competition features a wide variety of categories to account for the many different types of squads, from those that have male cheerleaders and those who don’t, those who incorporate tumbling in their routines or not, and those that have smaller squads than larger schools.
Warren, in her second year coaching the Gray’s Creek junior varsity, was a cheerleader for former Hope Mills mayor Jackie Warner when Warner was a cheerleading pioneer in the early days of Douglas Byrd High School.
While the NCHSAA officially considers cheerleading an activity and not a sport, Warren said watching the competitions can cause someone to develop a different opinion.
“They don’t know the work they put in,’’ Warren said. “Our girls are out here every day at least two hours a day after school practicing. A lot go to tumbling classes.’’
Warren said some of her cheerleaders even take weightlifting classes. And all this work is in addition to the time spent actually cheering at games and taking part in competitions.
“We’re not just practicing for sideline competitions,’’ she said.
A mother of three boys, Warren said her husband accompanied her to the state championship last weekend and was overwhelmed by what some of the competitors did.
“For this to come home to us (at Gray’s Creek), I think it does a lot for our cheer programs,’’ Warren said.
The Gray’s Creek title had special meaning for one of the team members, Lanie Myrtle, daughter of Joe and Melanie Myrtle and sister of Carlie, who along with her dad Joe helped lead Jack Britt to an NCHSAA fast-pitch softball championship in 2018.
When her husband Joe pointed out that Melanie Myrtle was now the only member of the household that wasn’t a state champion, she replied that she was however the mother of two state champions.
Lanie has only been cheering for two years, coming from a background in dance.
“It’s a lot of athleticism, a lot of training, especially as a base,’’ she said. “You need good hand-eye coordination.’’
Base refers to cheerleaders who lift cheerleaders and physical support their teammates during some routines.
Shook, who comes from a background as a college All-American in swimming, has been coaching the Cape Fear girls for three years. She did a lot of research and reading to help her learn about her new job.
She also credited two mentors who helped her, Gray’s Creek varsity coach Stephanie French and South View coach Jamilia Parks. Parks’ 2020 South View team won the N.C. Cheerleading Coaches Association state championship.
“All the cheerleading programs worked tremendously hard,’’ she said. “I think we have changed how cheerleading is viewed at Cape Fear with the awards we’ve won this season.’’
Two of Shook’s cheerleaders, captains Sophia Gibson and Ava Osornio, have cheered all four years at Cape Fear. Gibson also plays lacrosse and lifts weights while Osornio did some soccer and gymnastics but was involved in cheerleading before she arrived at Cape Fear.
Osornio said the most enjoyable thing about the championship was having her stunt group hit one of the best routines it ever did. “Everyone’s energy on the floor was amazing,’’ she said.
“Everyone ended that routine like they had just the best time of their lives. It was so fun.’’
Gibson thinks people don’t appreciate how much of a team sport cheerleading is. “You can go home and learn a dance, but you can’t go home and stunt with four other people,’’ she said. “You’re basically using human weights.’’ 
Gibson also thinks the Cape Fear win provides motivation for younger girls to get involved in cheerleading. “I think it’s good for us to set an example for these other teams to show they have something to work toward and something to be excited for,’’ she said.
Earl’s Pearls
For some time, the N.C. Coaches Association offered an important publication called “From the Gym to the Jury’’ for its member coaches.
The aim was to provide coaches with firsthand information about court cases involving high school athletics that might help them avoid facing similar challenges.
This week the NCCA announced a partnership with a new publication called Legal Issues in High School Athletics.
LIHSA is designed to share information on developments and trends in the area of risk management and the law that will hopefully protect coaches and their employers from liability.
This week’s picks
Thanks to Seventy-First my hot streak continues. I was 1-0 again last week as the Falcons won their way into tonight’s NCHSAA 3-A state title game in the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
The record for the season is 67-20, 77.0 percent.
Here’s the final pick for the 2023 season.
Seventy-First vs. Hickory, NCHSAA 3-A state championship
Let’s do some housekeeping first. Admission is $15 and parking is $15. You’ll be better off if you visit the GoFan.com website pregame and buy your ticket there. You can buy it at the stadium tonight, kickoff 7 p.m., but you might find yourself standing in line so get it as soon as possible.
Both teams are 15-0 and didn’t get here by being average. Both have plenty of offense.
But here’s where the paths diverge a bit.
Seventy-First clearly is the better defensive team. Hickory has no shutouts and has allowed 20 or more points in seven games.
According to MaxPreps, Hickory has played a much tougher schedule than Seventy-First, but the Falcons have an edge in playoff experience. A big one.
The seniors on this year’s Falcon team have played 13 state playoff games in the last three years alone. Not counting this season, Hickory has played five playoff games in the previous six years. The last time they got as far as the third round was 2007.
I’m counting on a seasoned playoff team and better defense being the keys for the Falcons tonight as they seek to add to the school’s title haul: Seventy-First 21, Hickory 18.
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