DETROIT (WXYZ) — Whether stunting, yelling or dancing, cheerleaders — nearly 4 million strong across America — can tip the scales of winning or defeat.
“If the cheerleaders are not at a game, the players react to it (saying), why weren't you there, we lost because you weren't there,” said Cassandra Wallace, a cheerleading coach at Cass Technical High School.
Ryanna Edison is a freshman on the cheer team at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. She began cheering at age 5 with the Police Athletic League.
“I love flipping, I love getting the crowd hyped, I love the excitement, I love Friday night lights,” Ryanna said.
Most cheerleaders showcase their talents for team sports dominated by boys like football or basketball.
In 2022, not everyone agrees that cheerleading is a sport.
“It's really so irritating because we do so many things just as other athletes do. We may even do more. We run, we lift, we learn, it takes hours and hours to do what a cheerleader does,” Sara Collins said.
Sara, a senior at Renaissance High School, has been cheering for 12 years. She's excited about the first Sound Mind Sound Body cheerleading camp at King High School.
More than a dozen college cheerleading coaches from historically Black colleges are on hand teaching and training these girls about the skills necessary to land a full-ride cheerleading scholarship. About 10% of cheerleaders are African American.
“I am so excited because it's always been football scholarships and now, our young ladies get to see that there is something to look forward to completing high school,” said Lisa Sampson, a cheerleading coach at Sound Mind Sound Body.
For Aiana Dowtin, who is one of six kids, cheerleading transformed her life after coming close to losing her mom to a tragic death.
“My freshman year of high school, I seen my mother get stabbed in my face,” Aiana said. “And that was real hard for me. I really couldn't control my feelings.”
Instead of spiraling downward into depression, her coach at Central High School taught her life skills to cope.
“She changed me into a lady. She taught me how to act. She currently is teaching me how to control my feelings and control my actions,” Aiana said.
Now, this salutatorian is heading to HBCU Bethune-Cookman University on a cheerleading and academic scholarship.
“In the past, money has been left on the table from girls not being able to have the same skills, not having the same fundamental, all of the stuff that's required for you to cheer in college,” said Teresa Parham, the Midwest regional director at American Youth Cheer.
But now, Sound Mind Sound Body is leveling the playing field, offering gymnastics training, stunting and other skills that used to be out of reach for girls in the city.
“To offer something like this for free is tremendous. It's truly a blessing,” Parham said.
It can cost $20,000 for a team to attend national competition, and that takes fundraising and support. That's in addition to the cost for uniforms and other expenses.
So, camps like these are game changes for inner city youth.