As a longtime newspaper writer/editor and media person, I have an entirely new respect for cheerleaders and their coaches.
In the old days, there were six to eight cheerleaders who learned some cheers and stood on the sidelines firing up the fans. That is what many probably still think of cheerleading.
But that isn't the case any longer.
I have noticed for years how the sport has developed, but never really took much of an interest in it. However now that my oldest granddaughter, Grace Bevins, is a cheerleader for the Williamson Middle School Wolfpack squad, I realize how hard these athletes work.
They practiced during the 3-week period in the summer just like the football, basketball and other sports did. Their coaches worked them hard.
These past few weeks they have practiced six days a week, after school (when they could get the gymnasium) and long days on Saturdays. On Wednesdays, these girls had gymnastics at the Williamson Fieldhouse. Not to mention, they show up for the games to cheer on their teams and to lead the hometown fans in cheers.
They get bruises, bumps, sprains and other injuries just like the football and basketball players.
If you watch some of the difficult back handsprings, tucks and other complex gymnastic moves they perform you get an entirely new perspective of how hard these girls work.
They don't merely learn cheers they are conditioned athletes. They ran the floodwall adjacent to the school, they learned a challenging choreographed routine for the competition and they worked hard to perfect their cheer and dance.
Needless to say, they have to have dance with rhythm, perform precision moves with coordination and do all of their routines with a huge smile and positive attitude.
They build pyramids with girls hoisted in the air doing twists and turns and the holders and spotters have to be strong and alert. This can be a dangerous sport.
They have to go to the events early to get their hair, makeup, bows and uniforms just right. And even the uniforms need to be special. (Williamson recently broke out their 'throwback' uniforms for competition, complete with old style tube socks, which were pretty cool.)
All of the schools that are serious about the cheer competitions know they have to work extra hard to win. Whether it is the middle school county competitions, the regional and then state events for the high schools, it is now a big-time sport.
This past week, myself, along with hundreds of others parents, grandparents and fans, packed into the historic Williamson Fieldhouse to watch the Mingo County competition. Families and fans do the same for the high school competitions.
Once you learn some of what these cheer squads have to do to win and how they are judged, you will most certainly gain a deeper appreciation of the world of cheering and of the focus, discipline and down right hard work that is required of these girls and their coaches.
As a former athlete, I always appreciated and admired the cheerleaders, but now I realize how hard they work and that this is a real sport. I know there are many out there that don't feel this way, but believe me, if you get close to the situation, you will realize how much this sport has grown and developed through the years.
It has evolved into something extraordinary.
So the next time you go to a game and see the cheerleaders, pay extra attention. They work as hard as the athletes that they are cheering for.
I salute all of the cheerleading squads and their coaches. They are indeed a special breed.
Kyle Lovern is the editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.