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Cheering is much more than smiling

November 06, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

HANCOCK - Four girls interlock their hands, creating a basket for Leah Merrbaugh to step up into. Then the girls launch Leah about 15 feet off the ground. Three of them catch Leah as gravity pulls her back down.

"I trust them a lot," said Leah, 16, co-captain of the Hancock Panthers cheerleading squad.

Leah and her four teammates consider cheerleading - which requires athletic skill, strength and stamina - a sport.

"It's different from anything. If you drop the catch in cheerleading, it's not just a ball, it's a person," said sophomore Reba Morris, 15.

After a three-year absence at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, cheerleading returned last school year under coach Jessica Potter, who noticed the absence of a cheer squad while watching a football game with her husband, Dave.

Potter cheered for seven years, including at Mount Savage High School in Allegany County, Md. Cheering taught her teamwork, Potter said.

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She wanted girls at Hancock's high school to have the same opportunity.

Hancock cheerleaders include senior Amanda Powers, who has danced, but never cheered before, and freshman Kelly Edgerton, who choreographed a dance for the squad.

A relatively small unit, with only five girls, the team gets along well, chatting and practicing cartwheels during breaks from practice.

They paid for their uniforms, including warm-up suits and jackets, by holding car washes, bake sales and yard sales.

Potter hopes to enter the girls in a small cheerleading competition later this school year to give them a chance to compete and see other squads in action.

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