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Morning Sun
  • Practice makes perfect

  • Pittsburg State University’s Spirit Squad last won a cheerleading national championship in 2001, and members think this year’s team could be poised bring another one to Pitt State.

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  • Pittsburg State University’s Spirit Squad last won a cheerleading national championship in 2001, and members think this year’s team could be poised bring another one to Pitt State.
    The team has been practicing the routine it will perform at the UCA College Cheer National Championships in Orlando, Fla., next weekend since November. The squad practices for four to five hours a day, and took only four days off over the holiday break. The Gorillas are one of a minority of college teams to get invited to the championship each year, and have participated in the competition every year since 1995.
    “It’s something we work for every single year, and it’s very, very challenging, said junior Lindsey Worley, who is from Texas and transferred to PSU from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla., to cheer for the Gorillas.
    Each team gets two minutes and thirty seconds to perform their routine. Head coach Linda Graham said the routine she and assistant coach John Rowe devised for this year’s competition is pushing her squad as far as it can go.
    “It’s the hardest  routine we’ve ever taken down there,” Graham said Saturday during practice in the Weede Physical Education Building. “Ability-wise, they’re one of the better squads we’ve had, and they’re very hard workers.”
    To help them be able to perform such demanding routines, Graham also sends the Spirit Squad members to MAC Fitness, a Pittsburg gym that specializes in training athletes to increase their speed, agility and strength. There, they go through rigorous physical training exercises three days a week with owner Aaron McConnell, a former Pitt State football player who has played in the NFL and Arena Football and was on the 2001 national championship squad.
    “He’s good at what he does, plus he trains them properly for this type of activity,” Graham said.
    The squad has 14 male and 14 female members, but only 16 — nine men and seven women — are allowed to compete on the championship team.
    “It’s a competitive squad and we watch them from the day they try out,” Graham said. “The goal for everyone is to compete on the nationals squad. They’re the cream of the crop.”
    The competition isn’t a tournament, and each team gets one shot to perform. Obviously, it can be a stressful event.
    “They support every sport, but this is their one time to show everyone what they can do,” Graham said.
    Junior Taylor Haddock tore her ACL in March of last year and isn’t able to compete. But she still helps the team prepare, and waits for the time she can compete again next year.
    “I hate having to watch,” Haddock said.
    Page 2 of 2 - The championships take place from Jan. 18 to 22 and will be broadcast on ESPN on a date to be determined. The prestige isn’t lost on Worley, who intentionally chose Pitt State for the chance to compete.
    “A lot of us came to this program specifically to do this,” Worley said. “PSU is well-known as a school that goes every single year.”
    Senior yell leader Jesse Pierce, who transferred from Butler County Community College his junior year, also is excited to perform on a national stage.
    “It’s a lot of fun, and there are memories I’ll never forget,” Pierce said. “It’s an honor to get to represent PSU. We go down there and people know who we are.”
    The Spirit Squad members aren’t the only ones who know about PSU.
    “The ESPN crew loves the Gorillas,” Graham said as she held one of the team’s 2013 traveling T-shirts. “We always take extra T-shirts because so many people want them.”
    The team also is scored on a crowd tape, which shows its participation in games and other events. Pitt State scored 15 out of 15 possible points. Pitt State is one of four Kansas Universities that are competing at the championships at various levels. The University of Kansas, Wichita State University and Coffeyville Community College also are sending teams.

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