Ricky Sisk used to tease his older sister about being a high school cheerleader.
Sisk, 17, knew he would attend Stonewall Jackson High School like his sister Heather one day. But he never anticipated following in her footsteps athletically.
Last weekend, Sisk, a junior at Stonewall, helped lead the school's varsity cheerleading team to its third AAA Virginia state title in four years.
Sisk is a co-captain and one of five boys on the squad. He's also a member of the school's varsity lacrosse and football teams. He's hoping to secure either a football or cheerleading scholarship to college.
"Other guys will say to me, 'Why do you do it? Oh, it must be easy,' " Sisk said. "But it's much harder than I thought it would be."
Sisk and the 25-member team are very serious about what they do.
Practices run two hours every weekday from August to March, and some Saturday mornings between 6 and 9. The team cheers at every varsity school boys' and girls' basketball and football game -- home and away -- and competes four times a year, at the county, regional, district and state championships. Such a regimen breeds close fellowship.
"Everyone's so close; we're all best friends. This is definitely like family," said Tarren Smarr, a 17-year-old senior.
"It's just fun," Sisk said. "It's fun hanging out with people on the team."
And despite the commitment to training and competing, 17 of the 25 team members take the more academically intensive International Baccalaureate classes at Stonewall.
Nine members of the team also travel to competitions across the country with all-star squads, which are unaffiliated competitive cheerleading teams.
"I think a lot of people think of cheerleaders as those cute little girls on the sidelines at a football game," said Julie Glaze, 29, who coaches the team with her mother Ana, 56. "But there's a lot of other issues to it, and until they see [a competition], they have no idea. I encourage anybody to go and watch."
Being state champions, team members said they feel well respected at the school.
"They've established themselves," said Ira DeGrood, Stonewall activities director. "It's an incredible team and group of kids. . . . They're amazing to watch."
This season, more local fans got to see the team when Stonewall hosted the AAA Northwest Regional Cheerleading High School Championship on March 7. The gym was filled to capacity, DeGrood said.
The school staff and administrators "see them on the sidelines at games but when they see them compete, it's really an eye-opener," Julie Glaze said. "They realize, 'Wow, these guys really are athletes.' That appreciation really came out at regionals."
Despite winning state titles in 2000 and 2002, before this year, the team hadn't won a regional title since 1998. Co-captain Erin Hill, 18, a senior, reminded the team of this in one of her signature pre-competition pep talks just before the team took the mat at regionals.
"This year we weren't going to let it get past us," Hill said.
And they didn't. By the time they reached the state championships, the team remained undefeated.
At states, again Hill did her best to motivate the team.
"If they're pumped, they're going to enjoy themselves, and the routine is easy," Hill said. "I'd say the thing that gets them through it is the sheer fact that they're having fun out there."
Northern Virginia dominates Virginia high school competitive cheerleading, and Stonewall sits on top of all Northern Virginian teams. In the last four years, the only school to defeat Stonewall at states has been North Stafford High. Last weekend, North Stafford finished second, Chantilly took third and Osbourn placed fourth in the state.
"When you walk in [to competitions], everybody knows who we are, mostly because of Julie and Ana, and how many state championships we've won," Sisk said.
Tricia Hill, Erin's mother, said the coaches have an uncanny ability to shape the raw talent they see in young athletes.
"They're incredible," she said. "You have to credit them with the success of the program. They stand apart and the kids know it. . . . They take good kids and they make them excellent."