The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 17, 2014

Cheerleading stars earn paid bid to Disney World competition

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— WINFIELD — The Pennsylvania Elite Senior 5 all-star cheerleading squad’s floor routine doesn’t have a lot of what people might consider “cheering,” coach Brett Derr said.

What the level 5 routine — the highest level of difficulty in competitive cheerleading — does have is enough tumbling, dancing and stunting to make audience members look on in wonder for two minutes.

“When you look at them, they look more like a team of gymnasts on the floor,” Derr said. “There’s a lot of stunts and gymnastics, there’s not a ‘down’ moment now.”

The team, based out of the Pennsylvania Elite gym in Winfield, is headed to the U.S. All Star Federation’s Cheer Worlds competition, which brings together more than 500 teams from 40 countries, Derr said.

The squad of 15 girls from across the Valley, coached by Derr and his wife, Tracy, will compete at the competition at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando on April 26 through 28 in the small senior, all-girl division, which includes about 90 teams, Derr said. This is the first time a Pennsylvania Elite team has competed at Worlds, Derr said.

“One reason was that we have always asked the girls whether they wanted to go or not,” Derr said. “The girls had always enjoyed doing what they’re doing, but have said, ‘We don’t necessarily have to go’ ... But this year, we went to competitions and we beat some of the teams that are going to Worlds. The girls were like, ‘We’re beating these teams, can we go?’ And we said, ‘Of course you can go ... It’s about what you guys want and if you want to go, we’ll prepare you for Worlds.’ ”

But teams don’t just sign up for the Worlds competition. They must receive a bid, which can be one of two types: an at-large bid, which allows teams to attend and compete, and a paid bid, which pays for a team’s expenses other than transportation and gives them an automatic berth in the semifinal round.

Pennsylvania Elite was able to secure a paid bid, which is rare for a first-time team, Derr said. In fact, the squad caught the attention of Inside Cheerleading magazine, which will be doing a feature on the team at the competition.

“Normally you don’t take a team that has never been to Worlds and get a paid bid,” he said. “It was really neat to see that happen.”

The girls on the team, which practices three days per week for two to three hours at a time, aren’t showing their nerves, but Derr said that’s fairly typical.

“It’s funny because I thought they would be overly nervous,” he said. “(At the qualifying competition), we were going into the second day knowing we were holding onto that paid bid position ... After they performed, my wife looked at me and said, ‘Do you think they seem nervous?’ They didn’t ... But when we asked them, they said, ‘We were so nervous, we knew we had the paid bid position and if we had one slight bobble in the air we would lose that.’ ”

Derr said the group’s tight bond keeps them balanced and focused during competitions.

“It’s a group of kids that have been together for a long time, most of them,” he said. “They handle pressure well.”

The competition will also allow the girls to compete against big-name teams that they haven’t seen on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, Derr said.

But no matter what the outcome of the competition, Derr said he and Tracy are proud of the Senior 5 squad, and all 120 athletes who train at their gym.