VYPE Houston Region
Other North HS
We Are... Woodlands Elite -- City's Top Cheer Team
February 9, 2012By Matt Malatesta of VYPE MAGAZINE - North Houston
"We Are Woodlands Elite"
By Matt Malatesta
CLICK IMAGE TO SEE MORE PHOTOS
Forget what you think about competitive cheerleading. Wipe the images of the nutty cheer moms, the make-up and the drama from your conscious.
Competitive cheer is here to stay and it's a big business. Thousands of girls and boys across the city of Houston participate in competitive cheer, which is as fever-pitched as AAU basketball, tournament volleyball or select baseball. The city's preeminent cheer troupe is Woodlands Elite, which draws athletes from all over Houston, Katy, Huntsville, Clear Lake, Austin and even small towns like Tarkington, Texas.
"It's amazing to me that we can call competitive cheerleading a professional career and a way of life for so many people," Woodlands Elite's Brian Barnhart said. "Over the last 10 years, Woodlands Elite Cheer Company has become 'the home away from home, for many young and talented athletes. We are truly a family that has grown together, competed together and raised our children together in this wonderful sport of cheerleading"
Enter the George R. Brown Convention Center during a regional event or a national event like the one at the Indianapolis Convention Center, and the chants of "We Are... Woodlands Elite" fill the arena. Shakers, bedazzle t-shirts and parents screaming for their respective teenager or toddler are only drowned out by the blaring sound of techno-dance music.
"It's like being inside a metal trash can and someone taking a hammer and banging on the side of the trash can," one cheer dad said. "That is what a cheer competition is like. It's intense, but the girls love it."
While the music and light show is a spectacle in itself, the athletes performing are freakishly braze and talented. From tumble passes, stunting and dance, it looks more like two-dozen mini-Matrix doing a synchronized routine than pre-teen and high school girls.
"Absolutely this is a sport," Tarkington senior Chandler Berryhill said. "You know how athletic you have to be to dance, jump, tumble and lift girls in the air in a two-and-a-half minute routine? It's not as easy as it looks. The time we put into this in practice is really intensive. I've dislocated a tailbone, which is hard to do, from stunting a younger girl."
The practices could put some football workouts to shame and the toll it takes on these athletes' bodies is tremendous.
"My specialty is running-tumbling because I'm kind of a daredevil," Sarah Hebert, a senior at Huntsville High said. "I've broken toes and have been out for weeks at a time during my five years of cheer. But I wouldn't change a thing."
Having recently moved into their new facility, the rafters of Woodlands Elite are filled with championships banners from their old digs. While the more things change the more they stay the same. Entering their 10th season, Woodlands Elite has won big in the early 2011-12 competitive season, and have high expectations as the championship and Worlds season begins.
Fielding teams from special needs up to senior Level 5 and an International Open Coed Level 5, the dozen cheer teams under the Woodlands Elite umbrella are uniquely put together. While age and ability are factors on determining the upper level teams, there are many instances where high schoolers may be partnered with junior high or even elementary athletes.
Awkward? Not really. In fact at times the mentoring from the older girls goes above and beyond what happens on the mat.
"Cheering is a lot more than stunting or tumbling, we are together all the time," Tori Strickland of The Woodlands High School said. "When the younger girls make a mistake or take a fall, instead of the coach, I'm there to pick them back up and dust them off. It's off the mat too. We help them with maybe something in school, with their family or socially that they are dealing with. That's really a big reason I've stuck with cheer through my high school career."