PENDLETON – Alexyss Jackson, 18, took her place on the mat in the auxiliary gym at Pendleton Heights High School, ready to hoist a team member over her head by one leg like a flamingo.
Under the watchful eye of lead cheerleading coach Brenda Jamerson, Jackson is keenly aware of the teamwork it takes to become a competitive cheerleading team. It also doesn’t hurt that most of the girls have been cheering together for nearly four years.
“The sisterhood we’ve had this year is different than it has been in other years,” the senior said.
Jackson is acknowledged as one of the best in the state after she and her fellow cheerleaders were named state champions Nov. 4 in the Indiana Cheer Championship State Finals hosted by the Indiana Association of School Principals at New Castle.
Jackson said the cheerleading program at Pendleton Heights is about much more than encouraging the basketball and football teams. The girls are expected to put the type of perfection they put into cheerleading into their school work, the senior said.
“Brenda really stresses community work, more than just cheerleading,” she said. “Brenda really puts a stress on how we represent ourselves, our school and our town.”
Many of the cheerleaders, including Jackson, who plans to major in biochemistry at Indiana University-Bloomington, also are driven to be cheerleaders in college.
Jamerson said she had a feeling when she walked into the competition that the girls would place well.
“When they walked in to the floor, I saw it. And that’s half the battle because the skills we do are very difficult,” she said. “When they finished, my heart said they’d won, but it is a subjective sport, and my mind said ‘Don’t get too carried away.’”
Jamerson said the girls did well at the state finals because of the mature senior leadership of the cheerleading team. Time together over the past several years has paid off.
“We have a long tradition of working hard and carry on with that tradition,” she said. “They have an understanding of each other’s qualities, so there is no tug of power.”
That’s unusual, Jamerson said, because seniors often believe they’ve earned the right to do it all.
The cheerleaders have a qualifier Sunday for the National High School Cheerleading Championship in February in Orlando, Florida. Jamerson said the best her team ever placed there is runner-up.
“We haven’t quite gotten the white jacket yet,” she said.
The Pendleton cheerleaders got their unique moves, including their signature full-up/switch-up, from Blake Johnson, national director of V’Roc Choreography. He starts his training with the cheerleaders in the summer.
The full-up/switch-up requires the base girls to release the top girl, who switches her feet twice as she is turned in a circle and is caught by the bases by one leg. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the easiest, Johnson said, this move is a 10.
After working with the team for about four years, he said it’s the girls’ conditioning, training, technique and coaching that’s made them winners.
“If you have those things in that order, you make a program that’s unstoppable,” he said.
Varsity B lineup
Winners in the high school Varsity B division of the Indiana Cheer Championship State Finals hosted by the Indiana Association of School Principals at New Castle are as follows:
State Champion: Pendleton Heights
State Runner-Up: Jasper
State Third Place: Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne
State Fourth Place: Greenfield Central
State Fifth Place: Lowell