Champagne life more than dance
NCCU cheerleaders dedicate time, effort to support athletes
N.C. Central University football games are rowdy. On the sidelines, the roaring cheers of NCCU's varsity cheerleaders, Champagne, uplift the crowd. Champagne's goal is to support the team and keep the crowd engaged.
"Cheering is more than looking pretty," said mass communication junior Renee Natson. "It's about cheering your team to victory."
On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium the women of Champagne practice the intricate cheers they perform at football and men's basketball games.
From precise leg kicking, rhythmic hand swinging and hair whipping, every single woman gives 100 percent to perfect her skills.
"We show up and show out," said public health senior and Champagne captain India Johnson.
Looking like a complete unit, Champagne dresses in black tank tops and shorts with the traditional white tube socks and cheer shoes.
During cheer practice, the thunderous sound of Champagne echoes throughout the gym and "N-C-C-U Eagles" can be heard even in the halls. The women run through routines repeatedly until everyone is completely in sync.
The squad consists of 12 women with different majors ranging from criminal justice to biology, but they find unity in cheerleading.
"Every individual brings a different level of creativity to the squad, which is why our cheers are one of a kind," said Natson.
Being a part of the elite Champagne squad is demanding. The women perform for home and away games during football season and all home games for men's basketball.
The women in Champagne must balance being a student, athlete and having jobs on or off campus.
"It's all about having discipline and structure to help organize the different parts of life," said criminal justice senior and cheer captain Johnae' Stoutamire.
In the summer, a conditioning coach teaches the ladies about healthy nutrition, speaking intelligently and proper etiquette.
"The program is not just about getting the material," said Head Cheerleading Coach and Marketing Director LuAnn Edmonds-Harris. "We are going from head to toe."
Edmonds-Harris has headed the cheerleaders at NCCU for 20 years.
The cheerleaders are given critical thinking scenarios and challenged mentally. Edmonds-Harris stresses that she wants the cheerleaders to be able to handle themselves in different situations and always display sportsmanship whether they win or lose.
The women go through extensive transformations during their transition from junior varsity to varsity.
"Being a varsity cheerleader has definitely molded me into the woman I am today," said Johnson. "Cheerleading has given me the chance to strengthen my leadership, communication and verbal skills from cheering at a game to talking to professionals."
The cheerleaders are not given scholarships. They volunteer their time and dedication.
"I have been cheerleading since the second grade and I'm still going," said Stoutamire. "This is not a hobby to me. It is my passion and heart."
Champagne always strives to be the best. The women take their roles in uplifting the crowds and supporting the teams to heart.
Stoutamire and Johnson both said NCCU Champagne cheerleaders are classy, elegant, talented and fierce.
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