Taegu American cheerleaders bring home awards
Stars and Stripes November 20, 2004
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — When the bus from Taegu Airport in South Korea pulled up to the Taegu American School grounds last Saturday night, 16-year-old Megan Gardner saw a crowd had assembled outside in the cold.
A big banner read: “Congratulations, Taegu Warriors,” the name of Taegu American School’s varsity cheerleading squad.
As a firetruck stood nearby, sounding its siren, the crowd broke into one of the school’s cheerleader chants: “We are proud of you, I said we are proud of you!”
The reason: The squad just had captured a clutch of honors including first place in the small schools category of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Far East Cheerleading Competition, held Nov. 8-12 at Camp Zama, Japan.
“I was really excited and I cried,” said Gardner, an 11th grader. “I was very happy. It felt like a lot of hard work had paid off.
“They were really excited for us,” Gardner told Stripes this week.
“When we got back, there was actually a whole crowd waiting for us and the fire truck. … It was there to just make noise and be there in support of us. They were all standing and they were singing and a big banner. … They were proud of us.”
The squad — 10 9th- through 12th-graders who cheer for Taegu’s Warriors football and basketball teams — had edged out second-place E.J. King High School of Sasebo, Japan, and Osan American School from Pyongtaek, South Korea.
The National Cheerleading Association sponsored the competition, which drew 100 participants from Korea, Japan, and Guam.
Twelve teams took part at Camp Zama and on the first day came an event separate from the Far East competition: eligibility trials for the National Cheerleading Championships in Dallas next month.
Each squad had to demonstrate its signature 30-second home cheer and earn enough points from the judges — NCA instructors — to qualify for Dallas. Taegu was one of several schools that qualified, said one of the Warriors’ coaches, Tonya Hagander, a third-grade teacher at Taegu American School.
“It’s huge,” she said. “Whoever wins there becomes the national champions in their category. So it’s kind of a bragging right. Kind of like winning the Super Bowl.”
Then, attention shifted to the Far East competition. Each day, the squads attended a camp at which NCA instructors taught the fine points of cheerleading.
“Safe stunting was a big one,” said Hagander. “NCA is really big on safety, as far as knowing the correct technique in order to put up stunts. There were several choreographed dance routines that were taught. And they had a jump clinic, which teaches them the correct technique for doing the different jumps that they incorporate into their routines.”
On Friday, the last day, came the make-or-break competition.
“They had to use the material they were taught at the camp to come up with a two-minute routine for the competition,” Hagander said.
“It involved a cheer that incorporated stunts and basket tosses, two dances, a chant, and a ‘bleacher-mania,’ which is kind of a dance-slash-chant that’s used to lead the crowd,” she said.
The chant, in part, went: “Warriors take the floor! Green, black, and white! … The team you can’t ignore will win to-night!”
While at Camp Zama, Taegu also picked up the Spirit Award, which goes to the squad that best exemplifies true team spirit and camaraderie. It’s awarded by fellow participants in the week’s events. And they won a technical excellence award for the best technical skills and ability in cheerleading fundamentals, Hagander said.
The 20-member Taegu squad practices two hours a day, four days a week at school.
“They were thrilled,” Hagander said. “This is what they’ve been working so hard for, and for it to finally become a reality, they were really, really happy.”
Gardner said she’s looking forward to Dallas.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “I think that when we get there, it’ll be an experience that really none of us have ever had. I know I’ve never been to a big competition like that. So it’ll certainly be interesting.”