Their job sounds easy: get the crowd fired up and into the game. But any cheerleader will tell you: it's just not that simple.
Cheerleading in the United States is believed to have started in the late 1800's and was dominated by men - you can picture the clean-cut All-American college boys in their big sweaters shouting into megaphones. But today's cheerleading is so much more than "rah-rah-rah" and "sis-boom-bah."
The sport (yes, cheerleading is a sport) has evolved into a highly-competitive discipline that showcases a wide array of skills. Cheerleading requires the teamwork of synchronized swimmers, the rhythm of jazz dancers, the agility to tumble, and the strength to toss. Cheerleaders need an outgoing personality to perform in front of hundreds of people, and a smile to make it all look easy.
They spend dozens of hours every week repeating cheers, perfecting routines, and learning popular dances and tumbling sequences, so they can entertain the crowds at football and basketball games. They may be some of the area's biggest sports fans, and they always have a front-row view of the action.
But this week, it's the cheerleaders themselves who will take to the floor to compete against one another in the Blair County Respiratory Disease Society's 23rd annual Cheerleading Tournament.
"Everyone is just so loyal to this area," said development director Rachel Derby. "When the schools come out and do something like this there is just such support behind these girls."
The two-day tournament begins Sunday with elementary, junior high, junior varsity and even tiny and mini divisions. It wraps up Tuesday, Nov. 4, with the varsity squads: defending champion, Bishop Guilfoyle will face Bedford, Central and Portage.
The Altoona Fieldhouse will look something like Mardi Gras as parents and friends plaster each cheering section with their school colors.
"It's fun. You can tell the girls are nervous as they practice. They get so excited. At the same time, the parents come in and decorate their areas with their kids' names and balloons. They really get into it, supporting their child and their squad," Derby said.
There is plenty of pride on the line, but this event is about more than winning prizes. Proceeds benefit Respiratory Disease Society programs, including cribs for kids, asthma testing for high school athletes, flu shots and a variety of educational initiatives.
Fittingly, the young ladies who spur their communities to support their high school teams also help their community when they themselves compete.
Derby hopes to raise $20,000 through the tournament.
"I think this is a really good event because people are able to support their child, their school and their community all while supporting a great cause," she said.
For this sporting event, the deafening cheers will be for the ones who are always cheering for someone else.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.