At last week's session of Amy Sergi's cheerleading camp in Ashburn Village--after the aerobics workout, before the tumbling exercises--came a bit of down time as 11 teenage girls waited in line for a turn on the mat.
The young women took to talking. Serious talking. They had careers to plan in engineering, medicine, science. They would use cheerleading as a way to stand out in the competitive world of college admissions.
"My mom's been saying I could get a scholarship for it," said Stephanie Ramirez, 14, who will be a freshman this year at Broad Run High School in Ashburn. "You think cheerleaders are all ditsy, but I don't think so. You're helping yourself. It helps you have confidence in yourself."
Hannah Wendt, 14, also a rising ninth-grader and cheerleading squad hopeful at Broad Run, drew a slightly stunned reaction ("Awesome!) when she announced that she had already sent for college applications so she could see what is expected.
Wendt, who has studied ballet, tap and jazz at Steps Dance Center in Ashburn for 11 years and was trying cheerleading for the first time, is considering a career in electrical engineering--at least, something in engineering or science.
"Cheerleading is a good, physical workout," said Wendt, who gets her career inspiration from her father, an electrical engineer and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. "You have to be physically fit and know what you're doing."
The girls at Sergi's "Cheer Madness" camp are anything but airheads whose only ambition is to encourage boys to greater feats of athleticism. They say that being poised and confident will help them in their chosen fields. And so they are here, learning to be poised, confident--and coordinated.
They are studying with Sergi, a former Redskinette and college cheerleading squad captain, because she runs a rigorous camp--and because hers is the only one around. Sergi said that the dearth in cheerleading camps in Loudoun County was something she noticed almost immediately after moving to Ashburn from Fairfax with her husband in 1997. She started the camp a year later.
"There was nothing really out here, as far as cheerleading," said Sergi, a 1993 graduate of Penn State University who stays at home with her 2-year-old son and works out with weights to keep in shape. "I don't really know why that is. I guess because it's such a new area."
Many of the 35 girls who signed up for coaching this summer are preparing for tryouts at school, and Sergi will run them through a mock tryout--complete with judges--at the end of camp. Other girls enrolled because their parents wanted to expose them to the discipline of Sergi's training.
Among the latter is Jill Hatcher, 11, the youngest in a class where everyone else was about to go to high school. "We try to find summer things for her to do, and we try to balance her out and have her do different things," said her mother, Sue, 39. "I think it's pretty athletic, it's good for them, and it's a lot harder and more competitive than it was when I was a kid."
Class for the 11 high school girls began with 10 minutes of jumping jacks and other aerobics, followed by about five minutes of stretching, all of which inevitably led to 11 girls attempting to do splits.
Only Sergi, in a navy blue Lyrca outfit that showed off her washboard pecs, could do them perfectly.
During the jumping portion of the class, Sergi pumped up the energy level by promising the girls a big payoff. She showed them how to "stick" jumps--landing so securely that they can stand still for a few seconds, the way the best gymnasts do.
"I guarantee at tryout no one's going to be finishing these jumps," Sergi said. "They may have a really good jump, but they'll walk out of it. Nobody else will be doing this in tryouts."
The students stood erect and still as soldiers as they took this in.
Karmen Johnson, 14, also a rising freshman year at Broad Run, had heard much of the drill before. Before moving from Dallas to Ashburn last year, she held a prized position for two years as a junior Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She arrived in Loudoun, heard about Sergi's camp and knew she would sign up. She is avid about maintaining her skills.
"I've always wanted to be a cheerleader," said Johnson, pausing only briefly as she practiced her handstand-roll move.
Kelly Groghegan, 13, a straight-A student who was admitted to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, said she signed up for camp to work on her hand-eye coordination--and to help distinguish herself at Jefferson, the magnet school in Fairfax County.
Groghegan, like many of the young women at the camp, said she wants to master something athletic. She has not been an ace in traditional sports--such as soccer and softball--and "I wanted to quit embarrassing myself."
"I played softball and soccer for a long time, and I was good, but not as good as everybody else," said Groghegan, who has been a math tutor and a winner of the National Science Olympiad for seventh-graders. "So I got into gymnastics and was soon at the top of my class. I wanted to do something a lot like gymnastics, and it'll be a way for me to meet people at my new school."
Ramirez, who hopes to win a college scholarship, has set her sights on the University of California at Los Angeles and a career in medicine. She'll try out for the gymnastics team at Broad Run, too, just in case she doesn't make cheerleading.
"I'm thinking I could be a doctor or a nurse," Ramirez said. "And this discipline is good for me."
The littlest students at Cheer Madness camp--eight 5- to 7-year-olds in the Peewee Class--were happily oblivious to such ambition, but they were expected to work just as hard as the older girls. They tumbled. They jumped. They practiced arm movements, such as the left and right diagonals.
Sergi said she knows that some and possibly most of the peewees won't ever become cheerleaders. Other things may distract them, including traditional sports. So Sergi tries to give them useful instructions that will apply anywhere.
She gives them "peewee homework," informing them that they are expected to be able to show her their new movements next week. "I want you to go over that whole motion drill," Sergi said. "Look at yourself in the mirror. Have fun."
CAPTION: Sergi helps camper Rachel Eden raise her arms and cheer with gusto.
CAPTION: Camp coach Amy Sergi, a former Redskinette and college cheerleading squad captain, leads the Peewee Class.
CAPTION: Kamille Coney arches backward during a limbering and strengthening exercise for the Peewee Class.
CAPTION: Hannah Wendt, foreground, wants to be a cheerleader at Broad Run High School--and eventually an engineer or scientist.
CAPTION: Peewee Class students learn to do thigh stand. Jumping down is Lianne Arundel. She is held by Kyanna Campbell, left, and Kamille Coney.