The Rayen squad's unique -- and often copied -- style has earned it a spot in the national
The Rayen squad's unique -- and often copied -- style has earned it a spot in the national competition.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- As high school seniors Coretta Rutledge and Dominique Scott look toward graduation, both girls see how much they've changed since they first walked through the doors of The Rayen School on the city's North Side.
"When I was a freshman, I hung out with the wrong people," Coretta said.
Dominique calls herself a "better person."
Both girls say their work on the Rayen cheerleading squad has made the difference.
"It made me feel good about myself, that I was doing something good about my life," Dominique said.
"It's something that makes me happy. It gives me something to do besides just being a student," Coretta said. She now hangs around a new group of friends and the hours of cheerleading practice mean she no longer has time for those "wrong people."
While she always wanted to do well in school, cheerleading has helped her do even better because she knew she couldn't stay on the team if her grades slipped.
"It made me work harder at school, because I knew I had to," she said. "It kept me, I think, out of trouble."
Coretta and Dominique are co-captains of the Rayen varsity cheerleading squad. The group, along with the junior varsity team, are practicing to compete in February at the Universal Cheerleaders Association National High School Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Fla.
UCA documents show that another area squad -- the team from New Castle Senior High School in New Castle, Pa. -- has registered to participate in the top national competition. They qualified by their performance in a competition at Slippery Rick University in Slippery Rock, Pa.
The Rayen team qualified to participate after winning several first place awards at a competition in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. There, the 20-member group was named Grand Champions. They also earned first place awards in dance and cheer categories, an overall first place among U.S. high school squads and were voted "most spirited."
Dominique earned the additional honor of being named "top cheerleader" among those participating from the United States.
"Our style is different. I think that's what most people like about us," said squad adviser Annie Terry, a Rayen special education teacher. She struggled to describe that style, but settled on "funky."
"It's basic cheerleading moves but we add a touch of hip hop," she said. "Our style is just totally different than most squads." Over the past couple years, other squads have tried to copy Rayen's "booty shaking" in their routines, Terry said.
Coretta said the team also makes points for its facial expressions.
"When we go out there, we're always having so much fun, we're smiling," she said.
"We're into it a lot and everybody is just happy," added Dominique. "And it's just fun for everybody. ... We make our routine look fun."
Coretta wore a silver star near her eye and an orange-and-black "Hoop it up" decal on her cheek as she practiced before a basketball game. She loves cheerleading, she said "like a singer loves singing."
"It's so much fun," she said. "It's something that makes me happy."
Choreography is mapped out by Joi Terry, Annie Terry's daughter and a former Rayen cheerleader, with the help of squad members.
For this competition, Annie Terry said the girls are learning something new -- tumbling. They work with staff from Kathi's Dance & amp; Gym Center on Springfield Road in Poland.
"Unfortunately, most of our inner city students aren't presented to gymnastics when they're growing up," she said. "But they're gung ho, and they're learning."
On a recent Friday, Dominique rubbed a sore arm she inherited after a fall during tumbling practice. The pain made it difficult for her to demonstrate her favorite jump, a double eagle.
At last year's game versus Wilson High School, on the city's South Side, Dominique said, she did 15 eagles -- high jumps where her legs and arms are outstretched and her fingers touch her toes.
"Dominique gives 100 percent," Annie Terry said. "While she's practicing or competing, you know cheerleading is the love of her life. You can see it. It's just like magic. You can see it in her eyes and her body and her motions and her movements. She gives her all, all the time."
Terry said the cheering experience has helped all the teens involved become more disciplined in the classroom and made them role models for other girls to follow. They've also learned leadership and the value of hard work and have been able to travel to other areas and meet girls from across the country.
During her 10 years as adviser, Terry said she's accepted so-called "problem girls" on the squad. Some had been kicked out of school for fighting, but they were talented cheerleaders. When they made the team, Terry warned them that rule breaking would not be permitted: Cheerleaders must not fight skip class or get into any trouble and they must keep their grade up.
"I told them 'You must change and turn it around,'" Terry said. "And they did.
"It's made a difference in their lives. A lot of them, they change a lot when they become cheerleaders."
XThe Rayen team seeks community support to raise the $16,000 needed to attend the February competition. They are accepting donations and also raising funds through an ESPN magazine sale. Mail donations to The Rayen School c/o Annie Terry, 250 Benita Ave., Youngstown, OH 44504. To reach Terry, call (330) 744-8550.