July 20, 2009
Rome, Ga. - The tall trophy with a large megaphone on top is the first thing visitors notice when they enter Shorter College's athletic offices in the Winthrop-King Centre.
Although the towering award stands silent, it speaks - make that cheers - in loud volumes about the remarkable rise of the Hawks' newest team that provided Shorter with its first-ever national championship.
"[Winning the national championship] was a wonderful surprise," said Shorter College cheerleading head coach Rachel Magness.
"We had a wonderful group of kids and we had wonderful support from the administration," she said. "I continue to hear people ask about Shorter and our program. We definitely shocked a lot teams who didn't know who we were."
For Shorter's competitive cheerleaders, actions spoke louder than words throughout its first season of existence, one that started with the team providing support in its main role as vocal leaders for Shorter's football and basketball teams and ended with the team winning the NCA/NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship's All-Girl II Intermediate national crown and finishing second in the Cheer Division II co-ed competition.
"We compete only one time in April at the national championship," said Magness, who is aided by assistant coach Matthew Larson. "The majority of our time is spent preparing for games and representing Shorter College in the community.
"It's definitely challenging."
Challenges are things that the Hawks' cheerleaders appear to thrive on whether it be on the sideline at Barron Stadium, on the baseline at Winthrop-King or showing their skills in national competition.
The proverbial plate for the team is always full, yet Magness underlines the importance of the bottom line figure that all of Shorter's student-athletes seek.
"Our first priority is that all the kids become successful citizens and find successful jobs," Magness said. "To do that you have to be successful in the classroom more so than cheering."
Maintaining that overall excellence philosophy is re-enforced by the growing interest the team has generated in terms of drawing top cheerleaders to the program, something visible through the team's two week long Cheer Hawks camps that begins this week.
"The word is spreading quickly about Shorter College and the success we have had," Magness said. "[Shorter Athletic Director Bill Peterson] and the administration want to attract as many student-athletes as possible.
"We haven't had to do a lot of recruiting because they come to us."
The word about Shorter's team is spreading among even younger cheerleaders around Greater Rome, many of which will be on Shorter's campus for the summer camp open to boys and girls ages 4-12.
"We have had a great response already, but we will take walk-ups," Magness said.
At the same time the team passes along its knowledge and skills to the youngsters, the camp will be serving as a jumping off point for the Hawks as they begin preparations for a new season.
"This will be one of the first times the team has been together since tryouts in the spring," Magness said. "Later we will have a pre-camp at an NCA college summer camp for four days in August [8-12] in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We look at it as a team-bonding opportunity."
That teamwork will be needed as the men and women head into their second season as Shorter's biggest cheerers, a fact that Magness knows is the program's main mission.
"Ninety percent of what we do is representing the school cheering for the football team and the basketball teams," Magness said. "We are here to do what the school needs, whether it's for a team or at a college function or in the community where we give exhibitions at schools and other events. We are ready to do it again."