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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

HPU top contenders in nationals

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Cheering all the way

What: The Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship

When: April 3-7

Where: Daytona Beach, Calif.

TV: 8 a.m. (2 p.m. EST) Saturday, April 27, on CBS

Ashley Edwards, then-head coach for the North Carolina State cheerleading squad, strolled into last year's National Cheerleaders Association championships wearing Hawai'i Pacific University gear. Then his team walked away national champions.

Edwards, 26, coached at North Carolina State for two years before taking the title. Approached by HPU to fill a vacant head coach position (that forced the Sea Warriors to skip last year's national championship), Edwards jumped at the opportunity.

Under Edward's leadership, this year's Sea Warrior squad goes to the national championship in Daytona Beach, Fla. next week ranked first after the qualifying round and the top contenders to win the Division II title in the coed category.

Edwards brought with him a different approach to cheerleading. Long ignored by athletic departments, cheerleading has struggled to be taken seriously as a sport, even at HPU, where the cheerleaders and dance team fall under the Student Life department. (The school does, however, provide full tuition scholarships for its cheerleaders and dancers. All 25 on the roster of cheerleaders are on full scholarship.)

"They do everything the athletes do," said Elizabeth Tiglao, assistant director of student life, who oversees the cheerleaders and dancers. "They work all year long. There is no offseason for them."

The Sea Warriors squad practices three days a week, conditions three days a week and cheers at every volleyball and basketball game. That doesn't include a mandatory study hall, as they are expected to maintain a 2.0 grade point average. While training for the nationals, the team practices twice a day, five days a week.

"Any sport that causes catastrophic injuries should be considered a sport," said Tiglao, a former cheerleader at Old Dominion. "And there are more injuries in cheerleading than in basketball. It's been proven."

The debate on whether cheerleading should be considered a sport is on-going. In Hawai'i, the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association sanctioned the first state championship this year.

Advocates argue cheerleading is a lot like gymnastics and figure skating, all considered sports.

Judging and scoring for the national championship will be similar to some Olympic sports. Scores will be based on tumbling, partner stunts and pyramids, jumps and motions.

HPU is sending 22 cheerleaders, 14 of whom are men. HPU's Dance Team, ranked first after its qualifying round, will also compete in the national championship.

The last time the cheerleaders and dancers competed in the nationals both squads took second place, beating nearly 150 teams across the country. Just one cheerleader returns from that team.

"Half of them are freshmen, so they're really young," Tiglao said. "But there is this idea of wanting to build a legacy at HPU. They have that desire."

And Edwards said it is possible, especially in Hawai'i where he said the cheerleaders tend to be better technically, with sharper motions and cleaner technique. Otherwise, he wouldn't have taken the job.

"It's a new start, a fresh start," Edwards said. "This is an opportunity to build a wonderful program here."