No Fear, All Cheer

Freshman Hannah Bennett, a competitive cheerleader lives and breaths cheer. Preparing for competition begins in the summer after tryouts. Many hours of practicing with a hired choreographer to fast and upbeat music until it’s perfect, in a 2 minute, 30 second time slot. Sass, big hair, and exaggerated makeup are three main components in Bennett’s lifestyle.

“I’m up at 6 a.m. getting prepared for the big day ahead,” Bennett said. “I spend about two hours on my hair and make it look as big as possible and also my makeup, because it has to look perfect.”

Highschool cheer focuses on supporting their team sports, whereas competitive cheer is all about reeling in the judges on  the mat; a cheer mat is a high quality foam carpet they compete on.

“As a team we make sure to exaggerate our sassy hip shakes, winking at the judge, and we make sure to own that mat,” Bennett said.

Cheer is a diverse sport, along with the big hair and makeup it also comes with a lot of contact.

“We would give anything to make sure that the person you’re throwing into the air never hits the ground,” Bennet said. “As a base or even backspot it involves contact, you would sacrifice yourself before you would let your flyer hit the ground.”

In competitive cheer there are levels that divide the cheerleaders up based on their skills and what they are capable of. Level one consists of preps and cradles, cartwheels, and back walkovers for tumbling skills. Level two stunts typically include extensions and learning basket tosses, tumbling varies from a back handspring to round-off backhandspring. Level three begins to stunt full arounds and other tricks leading into an extension, while the tumbling skills are learning how to properly do a back tuck and standing back tuck. Level four is the hardest group Midwest Express Cheer has available to the community. Level four consists of the same stunts as level three, but more complex and difficult. Tumbling consists of whips, layouts, back tucks, and an aerial.  Level five which Bennetts gym does not have yet, because none have reached that level yet due to difficulty. Level five would consist of a standing full, a running full, a full twist, and a back flip. Midwest Express Cheer plans to have a level five by next year.  Bennett is apart of a junior level three and a senior coed level four and has intentions of being on level five when it makes its appearance.

Competitive cheer wasn’t Bennett’s first choice until her interest sparked in the last few years.

“The gym that I used to do gymnastics at started a cheer program, and since my gymnastics career was coming to an end I looked into it.”

Bennett’s sister Tori Gonzales had been competeing in competitive cheer for several year, and really pushed Bennett into giving it a shot.

“My little sister had been competing for several years, and my gym had opened a new door for me. by startign a cheer program.”

Bennett had recognized some uncomfortable pains in her back, and continued to participate in gymnastics with her head held high.

“Gymnastic practices were 18 hours a week, and it became extremely hard on my back,” Bennett said. “After going to the chiropractor for an x-ray, I found out my back was at a 15 degree angle to the right, meaning scoliosis.”

Weekly trips to the chiropractor and Bennett’s back kept returning to the 15 degree angle, but this didn’t affect her positive attitude.

“I have been to three National Competitions,” Bennett said. “My first was in Orlando, FL, where I ended up getting 2nd in the all-around in level four. This was so exciting for me, because I was just a little girl, and it felt like the Olympics.”

Bennett had a large variety of succession while she took part in gymnastics.

“My second encounter was in Las Vegas, and ended up being the vault champion,” Bennett said. “This was surprising, because vault is honestly my least favorite event.”

But wait, there’s more. Bennett ended her career this summer on a high note.

“I went to Kingsport, TN, and was a national champion on beam,” Bennett said. “ I cried after my floor routine because I was just so proud of myself and how I ended my career.”

Bennett had spent 10 years on gymnastics, and wasn’t quite ready to let it go, until she was given an opportunity.

“Cheer was a new door for me, and it is so similar to gymnastics, and I just fell in love with it,” Bennett said.

In some ways gymnastics still has its connections with Bennett through competitive cheer.

“Since I haven’t been doing gymnastics anymore, I have had more available time to work on my tumbling skills,” Bennett said, “Saturday mornings I go for an hour, and mostly focus on getting my full, because I have been really struggling to get it, but it is in progress.”

Being apart of the competitive squad requires a lot of Bennett’s time with practices and weekend competitions, but for her, it is all worth it.

“I have been apart of the squad for two years now,” Bennett said. “I will usually practice for two hours for each level, two days of the week, and when we aren’t practicing we’re out at competitions.”

Not only does the sport motivate Bennett, but also the connections she has made within the cheer squad.

‘‘Joining the squad allowed me to meet so many new people, and I now consider them all my family,” Bennett said. “Just being able to experience competition days with them is why I enjoy this sport so much.”

Competition weekends take place almost every weekend, and involve quite the schedule.

“We wake up at 6 a.m. just to start getting ready, which takes about two to three hours,” Bennett said. “Our coaches make us then go watch the other teams, and overall the competition days are about six to seven hours long. We do this to see what the other teams have brought to the floor, and this is really fun for us all to do.”

For the last five months Midwest Express’ level three squad has been waiting for their moment to shine, and they took advantage of it.

“Our first competition that took place, level three won the grand champion level three team, and we worked our tails off, but I am so proud of every single one of the girls,” Bennett said.