UMES CHEERLEADERS TO COMPETE IN MEAC CHAMPIONSHIPS
March 1, 2012
By Dee Artis
Ready! Set! A tall male shouts, "Ready! Set! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight..."
It is about 6:15 AM and a group of about 20 people are dancing, tumbling and tossing each other in the air to the beat of various songs strung together. They count out loud repetitively to the number eight and then repeat the numbers for about three minutes. A short woman in a gray UMES warm-up reviews their actions. Each movement is completed, to the untrained eye, with a high degree of precision. As they conclude the performance, some sitting on the floor are trying to catch their breath, others walk to their water bottles to gain a quick sip; the woman critiques the smallest details. She mentions their lack of focus which affects the precision in the routine. She then explains how each is expected to fix the problem. Then she tells them to do it one more time.
The practice began at 5am and the rag tagged group of young athletes collectively sighs as they begin again hoping that this time they display the energy and precision so that they can move onto the next phase of the two hour practice or maybe breakfast. They gather themselves into the beginning formation with their heads down waiting for their cue to begin.
The tall male begins again, "Ready! Set! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...."
If you look on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's (MEAC) website you would be under the impression that the next championship would be set for basketball and it would begin March 5-10, 2012 at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C. However on the night before in the same arena another championship will occur. This is the MEAC Cheerleading Championships and cheerleading squads from each of the MEAC schools will perform a three minute routine to determine the best team in the conference.
The short woman in the gray UMES warm up is volunteer head coach, Dee Artis, and this is her third year with the cheerleaders. Artis possesses an American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators certification and is certified to judge the sport. She has judged several competitions in the region. Artis has over thirty years of experience in the cheerleading and dance industry and came out of retirement three years ago to lead the UMES Cheer Squad to a second place finish in the MEAC All-Girl Division in her first year as a coach. In her second year the team came in third in the MEAC All-Girl Division and the overall rankings in a very tough tournament.
This year they are working even harder to reach that first place trophy. The athletes have attended toning and conditioning workouts at 5 AM. There is university hour tumbling sessions. And then there is practice at 7 PM. The team has gone as far as to rent a cheer gymnasium so that they can work on a nine panel mat floor instead of the six panel mat they have at the school. This ensures that they practice on a floor that will closely match the nine panel mat that will be used at the MEAC competition.
The team itself consists of four graduating seniors, Lamar Waul, Shantelle Moses, MelQuia Pitts and Destinee Robinson. It also consists of two December 2012 graduates, Allyson Brinson and Adrian Gibbs. All will make their final MEAC appearance some have been involved since they were freshmen.
They are joined on the team by freshmen Tamyra Hall, Kaize Bey-Keys, Terria Wright, Hawa Dozier, Alaya Robinson, Diamond Kennedy-Webb and Brandi Tankard. The team's juniors are Ashley Taylor, Tanesha Williams and Christina Batts. Sophomore class cheerleaders are Ashley Goodin, Niesha Backus and Alexandria Caston.
The coaching staff is rounded out by Art Johnstone, head strength and conditioning coach, Leroy Artis, volunteer assistant coach, and Collene Dean, the team's cheerleading advisor. . The team finishes the routine again. Tired, they listen to their coach once again explain what the problems were as they sip their water and sports drinks with sweat dripping down their faces. She asked them to do it "one more time". At this point in the game they are not even surprised.
"Ready! Set! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight..."