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RAF LAKENHEATH — What does it take to defend a championship?

Judging by the tenacity of the Lakenheath High School cheerleading squad, it starts with sacrifice, dedication, talent and a healthy love of tumbling.

“Sometimes it seems like they don’t care about cheering or dancing, they just want to throw each other around,” head coach Jennifer Henderson said.

The squad, which has captured the past two European cheerleading titles, is led by four seniors who come from different backgrounds but share a common goal.

Rachel Laughbaum and Beverly Craig were named captains of the team, thanks to their status as the only returning seniors.

Laughbaum hopes to attend Texas Christian University on an Air Force ROTC scholarship after graduation, while Craig wants to continue cheerleading at either California State University at Long Beach or the University of Central Florida.

“We have a lot to live up to,” Laughbaum said. “We are the only sports team at Lakenheath that took first place last year, and we want to do it again.”

The 17-year-old Houston native said the stress of repeating is taking more of a toll than she had expected.

“I knew it was a lot of work from what we did before, but it is more stressful than I thought it would be,” she said. “We have to get everyone prepared to compete.”

Craig, who originally hails from Madrid, Spain, said the hard work is made easier by the close relationship she shares with Laughbaum.

“It helps that your other captain is a friend,” she said. “We know we can depend on each other.”

The senior leadership is rounded out by Jessica Stough and Jason Simpson, who are both new to the squad.

Stough is a first-year cheerleader, but has been a strong contributor with her background in gymnastics.

The 17-year-old South Carolina native puts her gymnastic skills to good use as the cheerleader at the top of the perilous “hill stretch” pyramid, which is when she is lifted by her teammates and held by one leg above the group.

“The very first time I had to do it, I was pretty scared, but they are my best friends so I trust them,” said Stough, who hopes to attend either the University of Texas at San Antonio or the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We are going for our third straight title. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.”

Simpson, a 17-year-old Phoenix native and one of two boys on the squad, described cheerleading as one of his two passions.

Simpson, who hopes to attend Northern Arizona University, also is a member of the Lakenheath High School debate team and was recently elected president of the United States in the model U.S. Senate.

“I love politics and public speaking so it’s a great opportunity,” Simpson said. “We get to debate on all the important topics: abortion, gay rights and all that kind of stuff.”

Henderson, meanwhile, said she’s pleased with the effort the team puts forth on and off the court.

“They are all excellent students and are involved in activities outside of cheerleading,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of students.”


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