Fun first. Fitness second. Competition third.
That is what makes this group of competitive all star cheerleaders so successful.
These NACA Storm All Star cheerleaders aren't your typical cheerleaders. They are pint-sized versions of their adult role models, but they don't stand on the sidelines of a game. They don't carry pompoms or signs, and they don't yell out a cheer, but they have just as much spirit.
Don't let their small size fool you. They work hard and play hard, and are physically fit.
"Some of the parents are so amazed at what their children can do," said Laura Huerst, team coordinator of the Storm All Stars, a competitive All Star cheerleading team.
Storm All Star Cheerleaders is the organization that formed in 2008 when Huerst and head coach Marybeth Long wanted to give girls in the Northwestern area the opportunity to compete in all star level cheerleading.
The organization follows the same high standards of the United States All Star Federation of Cheer and Dance, which has taken cheerleading to a higher level.
Team Storm offers girls ages 5-11 the opportunity to practice, perform and compete in a competitive sport. Thunder, the youth team, offers 5- to 7-year-old girls the opportunity to work at a lower level, while the Lightning team, girls 8-11 years old perform at a higher level of competition. The girls also have the opportunity to compete individually.
"We've already had quite a few second and third places this season," said Huerst. "Plus, we're opening up a new team for girls up to age 14 because several of our girls are aging out of this program and they want to stay in all star cheerleading."
Huerst said the girls work on routines that consist of stunts, dance choreography, jumps and tumbling. She noted that the girls are organized into teams by skill level and ages, not by grade.
"We've been together for three years now, but we recently teamed up with Tumble with Denise which adds a whole new element to our program by adding tumbling instruction," said Huerst.
"The girls are getting so fit and strong because of their workouts," she added. "It's so nice to see how far they've come in the past year since they started coming to a full-time gym."
Huerst said that when the girls compete, they compete against girls in their own skill level.
"I'm in charge of training the minis," said Huerst. "I just love working with the girls. They are so cute and fun to be with. They just soak up everything."
Coach Long is a former Penn State cheerleader. Huerst said that the coach's experience is instrumental in teaching the girls the stunts.
"She knows proper hand placement for the stunts," said Huerst. "Her background is so helpful in teaching the girls to stunt correctly so there are no injuries."
Team Storm also depends on Megan Witt, Huerst's daughter, who is a varsity cheerleader at Northwestern High School. Witt develops the dance routines.
"The girls want to learn the latest moves and Megan is so good with coming up with the new dance routines," said Huerst. "The girls just love learning the new material."
Huerst said that another benefit to the program, is that the girls are learning teamwork and social skills.
"It is so refreshing to see them cheer each other on at competitions and they even cheer on their competitors because they are so caught up in helping each other making their stunts work."
Huerst said that try outs will be held for new members from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 11 for girls ages 5 to 14 at Tumble with Denise Gym in Lehighton.
Huerst said the new teams will begin practice in September and begin competing after the new year. In the past they competed in Hershey, Reading and near Philadelphia.
"We competed in six competitions this season," said Huerst. "We attend meets that are held locally within a two- or three-hour driving distance."
If parents have a daughter interested in athletics, and loves to tumble, and wants to gain body strength and fitness, they should think about all star cheerleading, said Huerst.
"Our program teaches good sportsmanship," she said. "The girls all work at their own skill level."
Practices are held every Thursday night and once a month on a Saturday, or about 10 hours a month. Half of their training will focus on tumbling, while the other half focuses on cheering, stunting and dance.
"We're looking to bring in approximately 18 to 20 girls ages 5 to 14," said Huerst. "Parents love seeing the girls perform and the girls love doing it. We have good teams and the girls learn to respect other girls."
For more information about Storm All-Stars, see the website at www.nacacheering.webs.com or search for Storm All Stars on Facebook.