July is usually the time for playing baseball and attending basketball camps, while football two-a-days are just around the corner. But there is another group of athletes currently spending countless hours preparing for their upcoming season. This group sometimes goes unappreciated, though usually not unnoticed. They are cheerleaders.
It takes many hours and a lot of work to be an accomplished cheerleader, especially on the collegiate level.
The Town Crier had the opportunity to sit down and talk with University of Central Arkansas cheerleading captain Maegan Nicholson recently while she was conducting the National Cheerleading Association camp at Riverside's Lake City campus for the Riverside Senior High cheerleading squad. It was then that I learned how many hours and how much hard work is required to succeed on the collegiate level.
Nicholson holds eight to nine NCA camps per summer. These camps last three to four days per week. Nicholson said, "If you want to be a college cheerleader, you have to work, work, work!" She suggests high school cheerleaders wishing to move on to the college level contact as many schools as possible as well as making tapes of themselves and even using the internet to assist them in obtaining try-out information. Nicholson also said most universities have open practices where prospective cheerleaders can watch and learn that particular college's routines.
Nicholson came from a small school, similar to most high schools in this area. She graduated from Greer's Ferry-Westside with 45 other seniors. Nicholson grew up wanting to be an Arkansas Razorback cheerleader but failed to make the squad. Disappointed, but undeterred, she decided to try out at UCA in Conway at the suggestion of a friend. Nicholson made the squad and in her freshman year and she helped lead the Bears to a National runnerup finish in Division I competition, held in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Nicholson grew up under the influence of Razorback loving parents.
"My parents bleed Razorback red," Nicholson said. "My mom went to school at the U of A and coached the Razorback cheerleaders and my dad attends all the Hog's home games. When I told my dad I was going to go to UCA, my dad said, "no, you're not," but I convinced him otherwise."
Nicholson said her dad wears a UCA cap to watch his daughter, while sporting a Hog shirt and earphones tuned to the Razorback game.
When asked if that bothered her, Nicholson replied, "Not at all. Dad loves the Hogs, and I love the Bears."
Even though sometimes her parents may leave Nicholson's game at halftime to attend the Razorback game, Nicholson knows now that she was meant to be a UCA Bear, and she loves every minute of it.
"I don't think it was ever meant for me to be a Razorback cheerleader. I love being at a smaller school and knowing so many people there," Nicholson added.
Another reason UCA has turned out to be such a good fit for Nicholson is that the Bear Cheerleaders compete at the NCA National competition every year. UCA is currently the only University squad in the state that competes yearly, according to Nicholson. Another benefit for Nicholson in attending UCA is that she was offered a one-half tuition scholarship for cheerleading, while Arkansas only offers book tuition.
Nicholson, a junior speech/language pathology major, is looking forward to the upcoming school year and that is when her work load will really increase.
"I cheer at every home and away football game and all home basketball games," Nicholson said. "Sometimes we have even cheered at volleyball matches. During football season we practice and work on stunts."
Counting pep rallies and the game itself, it is not unusual for the UCA Captain to put in a ten hour day leaving little time for any other extracurricular activities.
"If you have the heart to cheer in college, you will love it, Nicholson said.