May 11, 2013 11:54:06 PM
Hunter Griffin and Dylan Huling had no idea what cheerleading could do for them.
To understand what the sport could offer them, Griffin and Huling first had to understand the combination of balance, timing, coordination, and strength participants needed to do stunts and to be a part of routines.
Once Griffin and Huling experienced the intricacies involved in the discipline, they discovered they had found a second home at GameTime Sports' facility on Highway 45 in Columbus.
"The second day here I felt at home," said Huling, who had no sports or cheerleading background prior to accompanying his best friend to the club. "It had a lot to do with my coaching and I fed off my teammates."
The comfort level Griffin, Huling, and Rachel Salvaggio developed as part of GameTime Sports' Senior Level 3 cheerleading program helped them earn spots on the East Mississippi Community College cheerleading team for the 2013-14 school year.
"I didn't think about it when I first started that it could send me to college," said Griffin, who graduated from Caledonia High in 2012 and is a student at EMCC at Mayhew. "(GameTime Sports All-Star director) Adam (Davis) was always telling me you could go to college off this and they pay for you to go to school. I didn't think about it until the end of this year when I wanted to go farther with it."
Little did Griffin, a former football player at Caledonia High, and Huling, a senior at Caledonia High, realize the invitations they received from a friend, Carlee Gurley, to attend an open gym for the EMCC team would evolve into a scholarship opportunity. Gurley was a member of the EMCC team this year, and she also was a member of the cheerleading squad at Heritage Academy.
Griffin said he and Huling fit in right away based on the two years of experience at GameTime Sports. He said the coaches asked them to come back following their initial appearance at the open gym. When they returned, Salvaggio accompanied them. By then, EMCC coach Amy Thomas was looking to pare the field and to find athletes for the 2013-14 team. Ashley Canida, of Victory Christian Academy in Columbus, invited Salvaggio to attend. Canida was a sophomore on the team for the 2012-13 school year.
Huling said he, Griffin, and Salvaggio felt comfortable. In fact, Griffin said he and Huling felt like they already were part of a team after the first workout.
"The coach seemed thrilled that she had some people who were experienced as far as All-Stars and stuff like that wanting to try out for her team," Griffin said.
The second session determined which stunt each athlete would be with for tryouts. Each athlete had to choose their three partners and were able to pick their stunt.
Thomas was one of the judges of the stunts. She also conducted interviews of all of the athletes. She said Griffin, Huling, and Salvaggio could be selected to be on the school's competition team that will come together later on in the year.
"I was pretty confident we had it because most of the athletes trying out only had school cheer and we had been in competitions and were used to the atmosphere," Griffin said.
Griffin became interested in cheerleading after he accepted an invitation from Huling and Moore to go to GameTime Sports. Davis saw him at the club and invited him to take part in that day's drills. Two years later, he is a veteran who is hooked.
"It was definitely a surprise it was in cheer and not something else I had been doing for so long," Griffin said of getting a scholarship opportunity to go to college. "It is amazing. I would never have thought I would be here doing back flips and holding girls above my head all by myself. He took us in and taught us what we need to know."
The progression has been just as incredible for Huling, who fills the role of back spot and a tumbler. He said the camaraderie with the other team members and the intensity of the activity are just two reason he enjoys being a cheerleader so much.
EMCC listed 18 athletes on its roster for this past school year, including participants from Columbus, West Point, and Starkville.
Thomas praised Griffin, Huling, and Salvaggio, a senior at Caledonia High, for their work to earn spots on next year's team.
"Hunter, Dylan, and Rachel all three have determined, hard-working, and positive attitudes," said Thomas, who had to choose 18 from 32 who vied for positions. "These three really stood out at our open gyms as well as tryouts."
Thomas said Griffin will be co-ed stunting and helping with pyramids and tumbling. She said Huling will rotate as a back spot and will participate in co-ed stunting. He also will tumble for the cheerleading team. Hunter said Salvaggio's stunt position will be main and secondary basing. She said her tumbling skills also will be a big help to the team.
"I enjoyed watching them compete for their position on the team, and they definitely deserved their position," Thomas said. Thomas is in her first season as EMCC's head cheerleading coach. She served as an assistant cheer coach last fall semester at the University of South Alabama, where she competed at UCA Nationals as a senior member of USA's cheerleading team in 2011.
Morgan Corder, of Starkville High, will be one of seven returning members from the 2012-13 squad. Kailey Lavender and Nic Moore, who also are from Caledonia High, made the team.
Griffin and Huling praised Davis for teaching them so much about the sport. They said they have competed on GameTime Sports' Senior Level 3 team that has competed in Tupelo, Southaven, Nashville, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., and Destin, Fla., this school year.
Davis was a cheerleader at Sparkman High School (Ala.). He earned a cheerleading scholarship to attend Shelton State C.C., where he stayed for one year, before earning another scholarship to be a cheerleader at the University of Alabama. He has worked at GameTimeSports for the past six years as director of the club's All-Star program, its competitive cheer program. He was a student at Alabama for the first four years he worked at GameTime Sports.
"I am very proud of them and very proud of their hard work" Davis said. "It takes a lot of work to do what they have done just from what I have done with them. It is learning a trade. They are learning the trade as they enjoy it as well. I am most proud that they like it so much, which drives their passion for it."
Davis said GameTime Sports had 50 participants in its first year with a competitive cheer program. This year, he said the gym has 60, with four boys on the senior team and two more boys on a younger team. The athletes range in age from 5 to 19 years old. The older groups go from Level 1 to Level 5 based on the skills the athletes do. The gym's highest level team is Level 3. He said Griffin, Huling, and Salvaggio are the gym's first three members of the All-Stars to earn college cheerleading scholarships.
"The sport takes so much dedication and they wouldn't be where they are if they had made a practice, or if they had done it for only an hour a week," Davis said. "There are not a lot of people who can take the dedication and put in the work and not get discouraged. It is intimidating sometimes to do skills that other people are doing."
While some sports may emphasize speed or strength or agility more than other skills, Griffin and Huling have learned cheerleading blends all of those and more into a scripted exercise that requires mental and physical discipline. They are honored to have the chance to take what they have learned and represent EMCC. Their goal is to improve even more to get a chance to continue to cheer at four-year schools.
"If the girl you are throwing is not on the same page as you, one person will be doing more work than the other and it won't collaborate," Griffin said. "You have to know where to put your feet, where to have them when you land, where to release for a catch. You have to be on the same page with the person you are working with. If it is a stunt, each person has to know their jobs and they have to do them at the same time. If it is a two-person stunt, the girl has to know when to toss and you have to know when to toss and to catch. It all plays into balance, tightness, everything."
Said Huling, "You also could land the wrong way and break an ankle or tear an ACL."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.