For a group of girls in southeast Queens, cheerleading is more than just about pom-poms — it is an extracurricular activity that is enriching their lives.
Over the last couple of months, the two dozen 7- through 14-year-olds who are part of the Queens Elite Cheerleading team have been working hard after school and on weekends to show other groups around the state that they are a dancing force to be reckoned with.
Medals and trophies are not the only the rewards the team members get, according to its founders.
“We have several girls who were shy introverts who we see blossoming into confident young women,” said Katia Leon, co-founder of the team and one of its coaches.
Leon and her fellow team organizer, Angela Murray, who both taught cheerleading in the past, formed Queens Elite in the fall to give parents and their daughters an option for competitive cheerleading that was close to home.
As a former cheerleader herself, Leon said it was an extracurricular exercise that required as much dedication and commitment as any other team activity.
“Cheerleading is definitely a sport. These girls require quite a bit of athletic ability,” she said.
The girls practice three times a week for two to three hours at IS 109 at 213-10 92nd Ave. in Queens Village. After some warm-ups and strength conditioning, the team members have to go through intense choreography moves that include flips, high jumps and sometimes holding another member on their shoulders for long periods of time, according to Leon.
Aside from their physical work, the girls also hone their skills through observation. Leon and Murray have arranged several field trips to local colleges, including Adelphi University, where the girls can meet the cheerleading squads and watch them practice.
“It’s a way to show the girls that they can go to college and continue to do this,” Leon said.
Despite the hours of training, she said the girls are able to balance their time with schoolwork and stay ahead of the class.
“The girls have pretty rigorous schedules, but they are on the honor roll, so we are proud of that,” she said.
The team has taken part in six competitions throughout the state and will have their next event this weekend at the East End Cheer Classic in Long Island. During the daylong competitions, the girls have to perfect a preset dance routine against other girls from other schools and after-school programs.
“They’re scored on choreography, execution, level of difficulty and dance,” Leon explained.
So far the team has only taken part in New York competitions, but the coach said she is hoping to enter the girls in other events outside the state. She added that she would like to expand the team next year and let other girls in the neighborhood join in on the fun.
“They do better in school and they do everything necessary in order for them to succeed,” she said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2011 Community News Group
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