Diane Baker photo
Left, Mill River Union High School varsity cheerleaders Leslie Hixon, Anna Baker, Tara Conover and Gage Greeno, back, were chosen to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
CLARENDON — It’s not just shouts and tumbling anymore.
Five Mill River Union High School cheerleaders — four girls and one boy — have advanced the school sport to the forefront, appearing in two Thanksgiving Day parades last week.
Varsity cheerleaders Leslie Hixon, Anna Baker, Tara Conover and Gage Greeno appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, while freshman Shania Perham was in Philadelphia’s parade.
Less than a week after appearing in two of the biggest national holiday celebrations, the student athletes said during practice Monday they wanted cheerleading to be recognized by everyone as a sport.
Greeno, a lineman for the North Clarendon school’s football team, jokingly said he joined the cheering squad for the girls. But then, turning serious, he said his friends asked him to do it and be their “backspot” — the strong foundation in the back of a stunt that makes sure the flyers (girls sprung into the air) don’t land on their heads or necks.
It is a crucial position Greeno plays.
Standing 6 foot 3 and weighing 225 pounds, he wants to pursue the sport in college, over football.
According to coach Jen Martin, Hofstra University, a Division I school, is in contact with Greeno, possibly to make him a member of its cheering squad in the future.
Cheerleading, according to the students, has an undeserved stigma.
It requires long practices to develop strength, tumbling skills, flexibility, stunt skills and good attitudes.
All five athletes were chosen to participate in the parades at a Universal Cheerleading Association camp in New York over the summer by recruiters from Spirit of America Productions, according to Anna Baker’s mother, Diane Baker.
During their trip, the students embraced the sights and sounds of the city, visiting the Empire State Building and seeing The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
The five local students not only gained new friends, but the experience also “allowed them to step up their skill level and teach the rest of the squad,” Martin said.
“It also gives them an idea of what they want to implement when they get back home,” she said.
While the five students said they are aiming for a competitive win for Mill River this cheering season, their coach strives for something different.
“I want them to leave the mat knowing it was the best performance they could do,” Martin said.
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