Cheering equals life

Published 6:52 pm Monday, December 5, 2005

By By Matthew Nascone
Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar all for no profit stand up and holler.
At least that is what the Atmore Elite All-Star Cheerleaders, a non-profit organization have been saying for three years. Escambia County High School bookkeeper Lashonda Marshall has instilled the values of being a good athlete and a good person in every girl she coaches during those three years.
"I don't push Christianity on them, but I do push Christian values because I stay on them about character and sportsmanship," Marshall said.
The teaching of those values is not only good for the maturation of the girls, but also for the discipline needed during competition.
"If we go somewhere and act up we are immediately disqualified," Marshall said. "We have to start the discipline at practice because the parents spend too much money for us to be disqualified."
The cost of an event ranges from $20 to $115 per girl per competition and Marshall runs a non-profit organization so the parents pay those dues.
The two-squad cheer group is a non-profit organization and they are willing to give back to the community that supports them. The squad has traveled to Pensacola, Mobile and Montgomery for competition this year.
While in Pensacola at The Spirit Factory's Open Nationals Cheerleading competition the girls participated in a food drive and they brought 400 canned goods. They received $500 in return for their generous donation.
"We do community projects because (the girls) need to learn the spirit of giving," Marshall said.
The squads will also be performing on live television Friday. Marshall said the Spirit of Giving will be on Clear Channel ABC-15 at 4:35 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. Friday.
"We take toys to the children every year and the girls really enjoy buying toys for the other children," Marshall said. "And they don't buy the little bitty toys either, they go buy toys that they would want to receive."
The girls on the cheer squads are well-rounded individuals, Marshall said. The girls are cheerleaders at their schools and some of them play basketball at Escambia County Middle School.
"I let them do anything and I don't care what they do," Marshall said. "I work around their schedules because that stuff goes towards their grades, so they know grades and homework come first."
Marshall said the flexibility of the girls has helped them to stay at the top of their game against the competition, even if they don't have the highest quality facilities in their backyard.
"We compete against girls that have 12,000 square-foot gyms," Marshall said. "We are always one of the smaller squads and we are non-profit so neither I nor my assistant, Cherryl Everett, get paid for what we do. We just do it because we love it."
Until Marshall provides the means to reaching the ultimate goal of winning the national competition the organization will stay non-profit. Marshall said it has been hard to deal with being given a bid to the national competition two years in a row and not having the funds to take her girls.
"I told the ones who started with me three years ago that before they graduated high school we will go to Orlando," Marshall said.
To get to the national competition in Orlando Marshall said she understands what is needed and she plans to keep her word.
"I am going to get a practice facility, but I just have to find some land and start building."
Right now the squad practices at ECHS and Marshall said she appreciates the space allotted to her squad.
"Mr. Milton Powell and Mr. Kyle Ferguson have always let us practice here and we support the school in their fundraisers in return," Marshall said.
The need for a new practice facility is because of the growth the group has had in three years. Marshall said the group started in 2003 with eight members and expanded to 19 last year and stands at 28 members this year.
"We were able to expand to two squads this year," Marshall said. "We have a small squad that consists of 13 girls and one boy from kindergarten to sixth grade and a senior squad of 17 girls with two third graders, one fifth grader and 14 seventh to tenth graders."
The cheer season runs from October to March and the national competition is held sometime in late March or early April. So far this year the senior squad of the Atmore All-Stars have competed in five competitions and taken first in every one.
The small squad has competed in four competitions and won first place in all but one. The wide variety of events include, The Alabama National Fair Cheerleading Competition in Montgomery, The Universal Cheerleader's Association's American Championship in Pensacola, the Athletic Championships in Pensacola, Ms. Lisa's Gulf Coast Cheerleading Classic in Mobile and The Spirit Factory's Open Nationals Cheerleading competition in Pensacola.
With these national federations of cheerleading sites close to Atmore it has allowed the Atmore girls an avenue to strut their stuff.
"That is how we are able to go anywhere because Pensacola and Mobile have facilities so we don't have to travel to Georgia or Tennessee," Marshall said.
Marshall does has some help when she is whipping the girls into shape. Kelly Fitzpatrick of Pensacola periodically comes down to help Marshall teach the girls the ins and outs of cheerleading. Fitzpatrick graduated from Booker T. Washington in May and is cheering at the University of West Florida.
"She started with us when she was in tenth grade and she comes at least twice a month to work with the girls on tumbling and stunting," Marshall said. "The girls have bonded to her and she comes up to our competitions and I think she will end up with her own place one day."
Fitzpatrick is also an instructor with Cheerleading Technique Camp and she travels all around the country coaching cheerleaders, Marshall said.
Of course who could forget about the people who fund any child's activities, the parents. Marshall said the group of parents she has the pleasure of dealing with is the best any coach could ask for.
"The girls are phenomenal, but they wouldn't be anywhere without their parents," she said. "Our parents won $500 in cheerleading supplies at the Ms. Lisa competition Nov. 5 because they had the most spirit out of all the thousands of people there."
The squad is not sponsored by any certain business, but there is one business that helps them out a lot.
"Our biggest supporter is Elite Sporting Goods," she said. "We gave her all our cheerleading business this year. Elite has been wonderful to us."
Marshall said the best thing about coaching the children is sitting back and watching them do their thing. The squad's next competition is Dec. 11 in Pensacola, followed by the Flip Zone Holiday Bash in Mobile on Dec. 17.
Try-outs for next year's squad will be sometime in March or April and for more information contact Lashonda Marshall at 368-4865.

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