'Bring it on'

KENT -- If a cheerleader were to craft this introduction, it would have to exude pep and sparkle and spirit. Attitude would be a must; rhyming words, a plus.
It probably would ooze with charisma. In fact, it likely would resemble how the Liberty High School cheerleaders proclaim their presence:
Ahhhh, L-H-S, you know.
Notice the you know isn't a question. You don't question if the squad's the loudest or perkiest or most spirited, at least in its opinion.
You just know.
Here at Kent State University, in a sleep-away cheerleading camp sponsored by Columbus-based AmeriCheer, attitude is everything. The camp is three days of barking back mascot names to overly ardent instructors, rocking your booty on counts three and four, and more "spiriting" -- shaking all 10 fingers in a furious fashion -- than the average noncheerleader sees in a lifetime.
Kent is one of 300 commuter, private and sleep-away summer camps AmeriCheer is conducting this year for 5,000 participants. The number of camps in 2001 exceeds last year's total by 100, the result of an explosion of interest in the cheer industry in the past five years.
New style: Today's cheerleaders are not the girls of yesteryear in knee-length pleated skirts grasping 3-foot-tall megaphones.
Their video bible is "Bring It On," last summer's ode to competitive cheerleading, whose title can be used as almost any part of speech. ("She's so 'Bring It On.'") Trainers are on hand even for nonstunting squads; tumbling and successions of jumps where girls look like they might snap in half is the norm.
Don't ask these girls if cheerleading is a sport. They could be spending their time more productively -- there are jumps to perfect, motions to make crisp, cheers to learn.
Hey, Hawkeyes!
"Hey, what's a Hawkeye?" comes from several directions as Kim Caputo, the petite, 21-year-old head coach of the Liberty squad, surveys her 25 girls -- eight varsity, eight junior varsity, nine freshmen.
"Don't worry," she said, scooting them back into position. "Just say hot guys. It sounds the same."
The girls giggle, re-energized.
Hey, hot guys!
Caputo sighs. The Girard native is mother, nurse, confidant, drill sergeant and best friend to the whole lot. So are her assistants, Lindsay Orr, 21, of Hubbard, and Michelle Blakeman, 20, of Liberty.
Women behind the girls: It's a tiring job. All three are education majors at Youngstown State University and former high school cheerleaders.
Coaching the squad isn't a task that's part time for them. Cheer mixes dominate their CD collections. Their boyfriends and best friends know Liberty's routines by heart.
They're trying to vault the squad to the next level of the competition circuit. Last year, the girls were sixth in the nonbuilding division at Universal Cheerleading Association's nationals. The coaches now want to taste first place, with its trophy and jackets.
"They're not cute, they're not that great, but they say 'National Champion' on the back, and we want that," Caputo said.
First, the squad must survive Mayfield, Liberty's biggest rival at Kent of the eight varsity squads. There are about 150 girls here, making up 13 squads.
Right now, Liberty's warming up for the night's evaluations after a day that began at 6 a.m. Cross-legged in a tight circle, heads bowed and fingers intertwined, Orr observed, "It looks like they're singing God songs."
Many characters: Instead, the beginnings of Ahhh L-H-S waft through the air. Then a little motivational talk among teammates.
Senior Erin Wright, co-captain and class president, is the maternal one, alternating between chiding the other squads -- "Doing kicks in cheers is so '80s" -- and cheering them on.
Give those girls a hand! Give those girls a hand!
"When we go up," Wright whispered afterward, "I can't wait for everyone to be, like, 'Dude!'"
It's the mesh of "Clueless" traits and smarts that gives this squad a kick, Caputo says.
"They're so Valley," she said, smiling at her cluster of cheerleaders, all dressed in tank tops and cotton shorts. "But they're ghetto superstars, too," Orr added, laughing.
Like sisters: The camp turns the squad from individuals into a sorority of sorts. Although most 18-year-olds would loathe spending time with their 13-year-old counterparts, the boot camp-like drills and the chants of "Go, fight, win!" have bonded the girls -- much as a common football experience can bond men forever.
One, two, three, we are the varsity.
Three, two, one, we love our little ones!
It's slightly sisterly, the way Wright runs for Caputo in the pile of girls screaming after they flawlessly perform their home routine.
And the way Caputo cries, and cries some more, when the girls are named the camp's top squad a day later.
"If we had no football team or basketball team, we'd have cheerleaders," she said, nodding toward her assistants. "The three of us would make it happen."
Exhaustion from two days of grilling is showing on their faces. They're still hungry to win, however.
The most telling sign is when Caputo, after the squad completes its second day, asks them to stay up, to practice a few more times after they've yelled, "One, two, three, break!"
They're supposed to be heading for bed; but this is what cheerleading camp is all about.
You know?

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