Mayfield, KY – After placing second in nationals last year, the Graves County Eagles cheerleading squad was determined to reclaim first place this year. Carrie Pond talks with the team about its climb to the top in the face of broken bones, grueling practices and, of course, an ice storm.
The song "Taking Care of Business" reverberates through the Graves County High School gym as students fill the bleachers. Twenty high schoolers wearing gold medals and white satin championship jackets sit center court. These teens are a part of a cheerleading squad that boasts three national championship titles in four years. During a late morning pep rally, fellow students watch a video from last weekend's prize-winning routine. After the video ends, Coach John Summerville goads two of his team members into spontaneously performing a stunt for their classmates.
Tiny Jacqui Lopez stands over 13 feet tall after Scott Burch hoists her into the air with just one hand. She wears a smile and raises her arms as Burch holds her over his head, his other hand placed nonchalantly on his hip. Though the pair makes it look easy, Lopez says it's a little scary up there, especially in front of a crowd.
"When you perform it at nationals, it's quite nerve-wracking because there's a lot of people just watching you on the one floor. So it's kind of frightening there, but we get used to it. It's pretty fun."
Lopez, a sophomore, has cheerleading in her blood- her four sisters are also cheerleaders and her mother teaches gymnastics in Paducah. Casually chewing a piece of gum, Lopez says even with her roots she didn't plan on competing in high school.
"But then, my sisters did it and it sort of entertained me and I was like 'Oh, I want to do that.' So then I joined and I started practicing with them. And I love it." (laughs)
Lopez and her partner, senior Scott Burch, won the co-ed partner stunt competition at nationals. Unlike Lopez, Burch had didn't have cheerleading in his blood, joining his sophomore year after Coach John Summerville encouraged him to try out. Summerville says Burch is the typical male squad member.
"Anytime a guy comes in to cheer for us, you can imagine he's never had any experience cheering in his life, so we're used to as soon as last season is over, starting on the new season."
With only 7 members of last year's squad returning, the team had a lot of work ahead of it. Summerville says returning members had one goal in mind- to get back on top after last year's disappointment.
"They felt like last year they had kind of let themselves down by coming in second. Their goal this year was to leave it all out on the mat, and that's what they did. So we were as prepared as we've ever been."
The preparation didn't come without obstacles- Summerville says the team faced injury, illness and then of course, ice storms. The storm hit just a week and a half before the big competition, and Summerville worried the team wouldn't have time to practice.
"I knew we were still going, because we spent way too much time not to go, but I was just worrying if I was going to get a hold of everybody and where did they all go, and how are they doing?"
The team did practice- at times in a dark forty degree gym and then several times after the lights finally did come back on. But Scott Burch says he wasn't worried about being prepared.
"Last year I might've been, but this year we'd hit the routine so much that I knew we could take a week or so off and still come in here and pretty much deliver."
Now the three-time national champions have little time to rest. Tomorrow they head to Bowling Green, hoping to secure their fifth consecutive title in the notoriously difficult state championships. Summerville and his Eagles still have more business to take care of.