Samantha Riddle wants to dispel the myths that cheerleaders aren't athletes. The 16-year-old junior runs laps, lifts weights and must stay in top physical condition to participate and compete in a sport that attracts millions of young girls and women and men across the United States.
"You have to be physically fit and be able to lift people and have their trust," said Riddle, a junior at Lakeside High School and a role model for younger sisters Shelby and Bailey. "There are a lot of skills involved."
Riddle, who cheers at the Panthers' varsity basketball games, has been cheering for about five years. Her hard work has earned her a coveted spot on the Universal Cheerleading Association's All-Star Team, and the opportunity to participate in the 2004 Varsity Spirit Parade in London on New Year's Day.
"That's a pretty big honor," said Cindy Evans-Blair, cheerleading coach at Lakeside High.
Riddle, the daughter of Robert Riddle and Nancy Edenfield, both of Martinez, was chosen for the all-star team after trying out for a position during a weekend UCA camp on Jekyll Island, Ga., last month. The girls were judged by UCA judges on skill, technique, degree of difficulty, voice, pep and enthusiasm, and other factors.
"When you go to camp, all the seniors on the team get the try out or up to six girls can try out. We had six girls try out and Sam was the only girl from Lakeside to make the team," Evans-Blair said. "There were probably 100 girls at the camp that tried out and only 12 made the high school team.
Lakeside High School cheerleader Samantha Riddle will perform in London's New Year's Day parade in January.
For Riddle, who has been clogging for nearly 12 years, cheerleading is now a mainstay in her life. Initially, though, she wasn't sure what it would entail and if she would like it.
"Once I tried it, I loved it," Riddle said. "It's taught me how to be open to people and that you can trust people. And I've made a lot of friends. I used to be shy, but not anymore."
Riddle's enthusiasm for the sport is maintained during a minimum of four hours of practice and two back-to-back basketball games each week, a regimen that is physically demanding.
"Cheerleading is definitely a sport," said Evans-Blair, who will accompany Riddle to London for the New Year's parade. "It takes just as much physical stamina, if not more, than other sports. You have to be strong and agile to do jumps and basing."
Evans-Blair was a junior when she tried out and made the UCA All-Star Team. "It's really just wild that it happened the way it did," said Evans-Blair, who has coached Riddle for two years. "I was a junior when I made the all-star team and Sam is a junior and we'll be going to London together.
"It's the chance of a lifetime. Not only is Samantha going to be representing our area, but she is going to be mixed with girls from across the United States. It's a chance of a lifetime to be recognized for your ability."
Riddle, a member of the Lakeside High Latin Club and an A/B honor student, will be among the 10,000 performers participating in London's New Year's Day Parade. A streetside audience of more than 1 million is expected to show up to see the parade, with several millions more watching the parade on television.
"There are thousands of people lining the streets to get a peek at you," said Evans-Blair, reminiscing of the year she participated in the parade. "You're kind of awestruck and you realize that all of the cheers are for you."
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