BUIES CREEK -- When Lisa Stewart ’07 MEd became the head coach of Campbell University’s cheerleading team six years ago, there were 13 students, all women, on the squad. Only about three could tumble. Today, there are 30 members on the team, about half of them men; and every single one of them can tumble.
"The difficulty of what they do now is 10 times greater than what it was when I started here,” Stewart said. “It’s unbelievable how much talent there is now.”
That talent was on display and rewarded this weekend as the Fighting Camels cheerleading squad placed third in its division at the Cheer Ltd’s Open College Championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C. And, as far as Stewart is aware, it was the first competition that a cheerleading squad from Campbell has ever participated in.
“Placing third was amazing for our first time ever competing,” said Carley Eibel, a member of the squad who is a sophomore communications major from Pinehurst, N.C. “We had our doubts since we were mainly a sideline cheer team, but throughout the season, while our routine was coming together, we became very confident and knew we had a good shot of placing and possibly winning.
“We were thrilled about getting third.”
The Camels competed in the championships’ large coed collegiate division, which was comprised of squads with at least five male cheerleaders. They performed their 2½-minute routine with 13 men and 12 women. Florida Atlantic won the division. Placements were determined by scores awarded by a panel of five judges who weighed level of difficulty, technical skills, stunts, tumbling, jumps, choreography and voice. A sixth judge monitored for safety violations.
“A lot of people on the other teams were asking, ‘What? Campbell? Where did they come from?’” said John-Mark Magee, a senior education major and a member on the squad. “They were amazed at how we’ve grown. Getting a trophy our first year is unbelievable. Other teams have been showing up for three or four years and walked away with nothing.”
For most of its history, the Camels cheerleading squad just cheered at games. When Stewart joined Campbell as its part-time cheerleading coach six years ago, she envisioned expanding the cheerleading program so that it also competed for championships. She had coached Triton High School’s cheerleading squad to two state titles, and she loves competing, she said. Plus, members of the squad often asked her when they were going to start competing.
Under Stewart, the program gradually added men to the squad and increased the difficulty of skills the cheerleaders needed to make the team. Assistant coach Lindsay Weaver also has been instrumental in identifying and recruiting talented cheerleaders to the squad, Stewart said.
This summer, Stewart began thinking that the Camels finally had the talent to not only compete for but to win a championship. “We’ve had talent in the past, but not in every area that we needed. I believed that this year we did,” said Stewart, who works full time as a counselor at Harnett Central High School.
The squad started preparing for the Open College Championships in September. In addition to cheering at the football and the men’s and women’s basketball games, they practiced for 2½ hours each Wednesday night and on every other weekend through December. After the holiday break, they practiced nearly every weekend, as well as on Wednesday nights.
Eibel described their routine -- which was set to current popular music with a little bit of Michael Jackson -- as exciting and flashy but simple and clean with difficult stunts and clean tumbling.
“We spent so much time perfecting the routine and changing things,” said Eibel, who began cheering when she was in the seventh grade and who chose to attend Campbell because of its strong co-ed cheerleading squad. “When we finally got to the competition and began warming up, we felt so confident and ready to show out.”
Through the rehearsals and the preparations for the competition, Eibel said that she gained “a whole new respect for my team,” adding, “We all bonded so much . . . Getting third was very rewarding.”
Stewart said that she was glad that members on her squad had the opportunity to compete for the first time and that she was “thrilled they enjoyed it and loved it.
"But,” she added, “I want to go back and win next time. As I told my team, ‘I’m proud but not satisfied.’”
Her vision for the program? “To win a national championship,” she said. “I want to raise the bar and continue to raise the bar. The cheerleading squad at N.C. State University is probably the best known program in the state; and it would be nice to be up there with them, competing in the same competitions and being part of the conversation when people are talking about the best cheerleading programs in the state.”
Photo: Members of the Campbell cheerleading squad who placed third at the Cheer Ltd's Open College Championships on Friday, March 15.
Article by Cherry Crayton, digital content coordinator