While the fall sports teams at the area high schools are hard at work getting ready for the season, there’s another group practicing just as hard.

Cheerleading is listed as an activity by the N.C. High School Athletic Association, but don’t tell the girls on the Lake Norman squad (or any other team) that it’s not a sport.

The Wildcats cheerleaders put in a tremendous amount of practice, both to cheer on their football team on Friday nights, but also for competition. And the Wildcats have been pretty successful in competition, claiming state championship titles from 2002-06 and 2017 and 2019.

Tonya Mansch, the cheerleading coach at Lake Norman, and assistant Justin Hefner said preparation for cheerleading begins with tryouts in early August and, from that point on, it’s practice most days for the next several months.

Mansch has been a part of the cheerleading program at Lake Norman for 10 years and Hefner has been lending his expertise for five years.

Hefner said when considering who will be on the cheerleading squad, they are looking for personality as well as athletic ability. The cheerleaders need to be able to do jumps and tumbles, and other acrobatic skills.

But the athletic ability goes beyond jumps and backflips. The girls start many practices with a mile run, and then go into more traditional cheerleading activities.

That’s why both Mansch and Hefner are quick to refute anyone who suggests cheerleading is not a sport.

“ We require them to have certain skills,” Hefner said.

The cheerleaders, in addition to putting in hours of practice, also participate in projects involving the football team, Mansch said.

On Friday nights, Mansch said, the girls will put the football cheers they’ve learned in practice, into action as they get the crowd involved in cheering on the Wildcats. The remainder of their time is spent preparing for competitions.

“ We go from August to February,” Mansch said.

Recently Mansch and Hefner took the afternoon practice indoors as weather threatened outside, and the girls went through their paces, forming pyramids, doing coordinated backflips and showcasing their jumping ability. And that was just the start of things.

Mansch and Hefner said making those moves flawless and look easy from the stands takes a lot of hard work but it’s all worthwhile in the end. It will hopefully end with happy fans during the football season and another state title banner for the cheerleaders.

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