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Two dozen local cheerleaders headed to national competition in Las Vegas

Kevin Spradlin | The squad gathers around coach Cassie Patrick for encouragement and instruction.

Kevin Spradlin |
The squad gathers around coach Cassie Patrick for encouragement and instruction.

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — It would take nearly 35 hours of drive time to travel 2,285 miles from Rockingham west to Las Vegas. A nonstop flight would take about four and one-half hours.

Two dozen local cheerleaders with the Rockingham team of the Young Champions of America are headed to nationals for a July 26 competition. The youth, ages 8 to 16, will have a maximum of 210 seconds to impress the judges.

On Monday, the Level 4 All-Star team worked out inside the spacious gymnasium of their new practice facility at Falling Creek Park in Rockingham. It was larger and more brightly lit than the squad’s previous practice facility, but coach Cassie Patrick knows it’s still nothing compared to the bright lights her cheerleaders will face a month from now.

That’s why she was so insistent — her approach could be described as fair but firm — during Monday’s hour-long practice session. Once each week, Patrick is able to view the progress of each cheerleader. Of course, the goal is to get each cheerleader in synch with her 23 other teammates. Sometimes Patrick likes what she sees. Sometimes she doesn’t.

“What was that?!” An exasperated Patrick inquires to the group as a whole early in the practice.

“Start over from the beginning.”

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

Stephanie Sutphin, mother of 11-year-old cheerleader Emily Sutphin, looks on approvingly.

“She’s got to get a little tougher,” Sutphin said of Patrick. “She’s a little too sweet.”

GAngie Boan, grandmother of cheerleader Nevaeh Wadley, 10, nods in agreement. Her eyes rarely break away from the practice floor.

Odds are it’s Patrick’s southern charm that nothing, not even the most intense practice session, can knock out of her. It’s a work in progress. Her accent is a dead giveaway of her location of birth. Her voice will be noticeable in the Las Vegas crowd.

It would have been less so, slightly, during the group’s first trip to nationals last year. In Virginia Beach, Va., the competition was a little closer to home. A 10th-place finish among 32 teams cultivated the desire to return. A top three finish at the state competition in Raleigh in June 2013 qualified them for a second nationals appearance.

“Get in your lines,” Patrick calls out. “Let me guess, you didn’t know where they are.”

It’s not sarcasm. In this case, it’s more of a statement of the obvious. And sometimes, Patrick calls on a higher power for strength and help.

“Lord, have mercy,” Patrick says to no one but herself, but within earshot of everyone in the gymnasium.

Kevin Spradlin | The look at the end of the routine, when the music cuts off.

Kevin Spradlin |
The look at the end of the routine, when the music cuts off.

One run-through of the routine calls for cautious praise. The group of girls looks pleased.

“The stunts look pretty good,” the coach calls out. “Do it again.”

Then back to reality.

“Just because I don’t say your name doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything wrong,” Patrick said during a group critique. “I just didn’t see you.”

Perfection isn’t possible, Patrick said. She knows that. Her job is to get the girls as close to that level as she can within the time allotted — 60 minutes each week.

Many parents are going with the children, who leave July 24. It’s a $500 per person flight plus up to $900 for lodging, depending on room assignments. Patrick said the team is just about done fundraising for the trip. The last public effort will be at the 4th of July Jamboro at Ellerbe Lions Club Park as the squad sells food for the Independence Day celebration. The gates open at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |


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