The belief that cheerleaders lack athletic talent and do not work hard at their sport is one that Jennifer Grant says needs to be dispelled.
As a member of the Evans High School varsity football and competition cheerleading squads and a member of Hayden's Allstars, another competition team, Jennifer can log in more than 15 hours a week practicing for events and games.
"I just love going out and competing and doing my best," said Jennifer, the 16-year-old daughter of Helen Ward, of Martinez, and Duane Grant, of Augusta. "I love being a part of a team and going out there and winning."
She said cheerleading, like most sports, requires each individual to give it her all.
"Everybody has to put in 110 percent or you won't win," said the straight-A honor roll student who aspires to be a pediatrician. "One of the biggest things I had to learn when I started this was giving up time to stay after school every day."
The Evans Knights' team of 20 girls practices every weekday afternoon from 2:45 to 5:30, and Jennifer takes lessons at Hayden's Gymnastics twice a week for two hours each night. She spends another two hours a week in tumbling classes.
"Cheerleading is a sport," said Deidra Tanner, a math teacher at Evans and a coach of the cheerleading team. "The competition cheerleaders practice at least eight hours a week. They are required to tumble, jump, dance and cheer at every practice. Athletic ability is required for tumbling and coordination is required for dances and cheers.
"Another misconception is that the girls are just there to 'look pretty' rather than to work hard. These girls put in countless practice hours, plus cheer for football games and compete on Saturdays. It is vital that each girl is a team player and that everyone works together."
Jennifer has been cheerleading since she was a seventh-grader at Evans Middle School and has been taking gymnastics since she was 4. Jennifer wants to cheer in college and has already talked with coaches from a few schools.
"Jennifer is an outstanding leader," Tanner said. "She loves cheerleading and always motivates others to be on task. She offers help to less experienced cheerleaders and wants others to be successful. She is a great team player and is truly concerned about what is best for the team."
A member of the school's National Beta Club, Student Council and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Jennifer also enjoys doing community volunteer work. She plans to participate in the upcoming Light the Night walk at the Augusta Common for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Jennifer, who has been invited to attend the Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine in Texas next summer, has also volunteered at Goodwill Industries and the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center.
"I volunteer because I want to get involved in the community and also because I know that in order to get into college, community service looks good," she said.
Jennifer chose not to participate in a University of Georgia-sponsored program this year, which would have allowed her to earn college credits while completing requirements for high school.
"I wanted her to still be a teenager," her mother said. "She already has three hours of homework each night, in addition to her cheerleading. She's very self-motivated and disciplined."
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