MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 24, 2013

Cheerleaders go through ‘rebuilding’ under new coach

By Travis Sloat
Phoenix staff writer

— Elizabeth Duncan said she spent the summer whipping the Fort Gibson High School cheerleaders into shape.

“We did a lot of conditioning — a lot of tumbling, agility work and weightlifting,” Duncan said. “All of that helps us because cheerleading is a sport. It’s statistically proven that more cheerleaders get hurt than football players, and if you aren’t conditioned properly, it can be dangerous.”

Duncan is in her inaugural year as the head coach of the cheerleading program at Fort Gibson. After hearing about the job from one of her students, she traveled from Mannford to “rebuild” the program.

“We have so many girls with a lot of talent,” she said. “But they needed some guidance. I’m more of the teach by example coach. I’m hands on, and I don’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. Even when they do conditioning or stunt work, I get in there.”

This was confirmed by Cassie Agee, a Fort Gibson senior cheerleader who has been cheering on the Tigers since the fourth grade, and who also told Duncan about the job.

“She’s been a cheerleader, so she can actually show us what we need to do,” Agee said. “She even gets out there and tumbles with us sometimes. She knows what she’s talking about.”

Kadrian Shelton, a fellow senior on the squad, said she enjoys being in a position to cheer on her father, an assistant coach on the Fort Gibson High School football team.

“When you run out of that helmet, it’s a complete rush,” Shelton said. “It’s like the entire town is here and cheering you on, and we have the opportunity to represent them when we go somewhere. The atmosphere before a game is enough to give you chills.”

Avoiding competitions because of school policy, Fort Gibson cheerleaders are more involved in the school. A typical week in the life of a Fort Gibson cheerleader during the football season often consists of two practices, a pep assembly and then a game on Friday night, said Duncan.

“I like that the community and the school focus more on small-town values,” Duncan said. “There’s a heavy emphasis on school spirit and it’s just like home to me. I’ve been coaching cheerleaders since high school, I think we’ve come a long way this year. We’ve improved a lot as a team.”

Shelton, who wants to attend Oklahoma University after she graduates, said the sport gives her a chance to feel more involved in the school and community.

“It gives you more confidence when you get support from a group,” she said. “I love being on a team with a group of girls who are absolutely amazing.”

Agee, who also wants to attend the University of Oklahoma, said she agreed with Shelton.

“It becomes like a sisterhood when you’ve been with a group of girls for so long,” she said. I like the spirit as well as being involved in every sport. I also love this community. They support everything we do.”

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat

@muskogeephoenix.com.