- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

When John Blake of Toledo, Ohio, got involved in "Christian cheerleading," his father had just one question: "Isnt that an oxymoron?"
No way, says the younger Blake, who serves as a national representative for the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders in Tucker, Ga. For John Blake, a former cheerleader at Indiana Wesleyan University, and for scores of young people across the country, cheerleading is a forum for faith, despite movies portraying it as an activity that attracts loose-living ditzes.
"Our job is to encourage and build up people," says Jenni Bunch, a senior cheerleader at Toledo Christian School, where the cheerleaders job description goes beyond stirring up the crowd to root for the team.
To Jenni and her fellow cheerleaders at TCS, cheerleading is more than looking cute and making the right moves. Its having an attitude that cheers everybody on whether its an athlete, someone in the school hall or a cheerleader for a rival team.
Groups like the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders and Christian Cheerleading of America are doing their best to foster such thinking at their camps by offering cheerleaders a spiritual basis for what they do along with an alternative to hip-shaking moves and bare-midriff uniforms.
"Our mission statement is pretty simple: We want to use excellence in cheerleading as a way to share Christ," says the FCCs Mr. Blake.
Toward that end, the group sponsors year-round activities for cheerleaders, including classes at conventions of the Association of Christian Schools International, safety certification for coaches, clinics and a nationally televised competition.
For 16 summers, FCC has conducted 38 residential camps and more than 100 private camps involving a total of 6,000-plus participants.

At the camps, each high school cheerleader is assigned a college-age "pep pal" who keeps in touch through the school year by sending encouraging cards and e-mail.
CCA, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., put on 103 camps last year for about 5,000 cheerleaders. Besides a series of demanding work sessions, the camps offer a morning devotional time and evening service with an altar call.
Last year, 52 cheerleaders decided to accept Christ as savior at the camps and another 1,870 made other decisions, such as rededication of their lives to Christ.
Both groups employ only born-again Christians as coaches and instructors. "Our motto is building people, not pyramids," says Rose Clevenger, who founded Christian Cheerleaders of America in 1987 for Christian school cheerleaders who were uncomfortable with the music, moves and dress standards they encountered at secular cheer camps. At CCA camps, bare midriffs and miniskirts are banned.
"We want them to look sharp, we want them to look up to date," she says, "but we dont want them to look provocative. We want them to look modest."
TCS cheerleaders say they adhere to similar dress standards. "Our uniforms are modest, with longer skirts, and thats not necessarily bad," Jenni Bunch says. "Other girls can look like theyre showing off their bodies. Thats not what makes a cheerleader — what you wear. Its attitude and what you do, not looking the cutest and showing your body."
Carrie Brumbaugh, a former public high school cheerleader who is now a TCS cheerleading coach, says she thinks her cheerleaders manage to look up to date even though they dont sport split skirts, bare midriffs and halter tops.
"Being a Christian doesnt mean you have to be out of style and old-fashioned," Miss Brumbaugh says. "You can be modern, but the biggest difference between secular and Christian cheerleaders are the choices you make in music, uniforms and motions. These are deliberate choices."
Christian school cheerleading squads also use prayer as part of their preparation. At TCS, cheerleaders gather for devotions before games and practices. Each squad member is assigned a prayer partner to support through the season.
Colleen Jones, who went to FCC camps as a cheerleader at Emmanuel Baptist High School, where she is now the cheerleading coach, says her cheerleaders also pray for the team.
* Distributed by Scripps Howard

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