Sue Sherburne couldn't be more proud that her team came out on top.
The Altoona native and advisor for the Penn State Lionettes dance team told the girls, fresh off their first ever win at the NDA Collegiate Dance Championship held in Daytona Beach last month, that she was proud of their high score, the way they executed an already strong routine and that they were one of the most talented groups she'd seen in her 14-year tenure.
But there was more to add.
Sue Sherburne (center) poses for a celebratory photo with Penn?State Lionettes (from left) Nicole Symeonides, nationals coordinator; Natalie Sarver, captain; Melissa Diehl, captain; and Jenna Dolce, captain, after winning the NDA Collegiate Dance Championship in?Daytona Beach, Fla.
"[I told them] what you do every day is what made you a national champion, not the score," Sherburne recalled. "The fact that you are committed to your academics, you're committed to each other and to your university, you're committed to our community.
"All of those things are what give you the ability to do what you need to do in order to get yourself prepared to win a national championship."
Anyone that's attended a Penn State football or basketball game knows the Lionettes from their spirited cheers and dance routines performed during timeouts. But few know the time each team member dedicates throughout the academic year, with four three-hour practices a week, conditioning workouts and up to four different appearances on football Saturdays.
In addition, the team begins preparing for nationals in October - setting out to win each year.
"We've been able to somewhat compartmentalize it," Sherburne said. "It gets a little bit hectic at times, but that's what we've tried to maintain, are those focuses throughout the academic year.
"Staying organized is half the battle."
Sherburne, who also acts as the assistant director at the Morgan Academic Center and academic counselor for the men's and women's basketball teams, signed on to help the Lionettes in 1998 after finding out they didn't have any type of adult advisement through the university. She felt she could lend a hand, especially with a childhood dance background at the Allegheny Ballet Company in Altoona and cheerleading at Bishop Guilfoyle High School.
Over the years, Sherburne said she's been proud of the team's accomplishments on and off the field, court and competition stage. These include their involvement in Penn State's Dance Marathon, maintaining as high as a 3.6 collective grade point average and being a positive example for young girls.
"Dance is a platform for you to be able to be a positive role model for other people around you," she said. "We don't have height and weight requirements. We want you to be healthy. We want you to do well in school and be a better dancer when you leave here. We want you to have been involved in a community and be in a leadership position and all of those things because I think that's a really important thing to take with you."
To help more girls experience what it's like to be in a leadership role, Sherburne has set up a structure with 12 other positions outside of the standard head captains, treasurer and secretary. She said this allows for more than half of the team and most of the upperclassman to have some type of responsibility, and in turn, they become that much more invested in moving the team forward.
"I really think that one of the things that's important about the time the girls spend on this team is that they take with them transferable skills," Sherburne said. "You know how to work within a team. You know how to handle conflict. You know how to be able to say something and offer feedback and then get feedback.
"That's going to be part of your life, no matter what you do."
For Sherburne's hard work on behalf of the team, 2012 team captains like Natalie Sarver are truly grateful.
"She's just someone you admire," Sarver, 21, from Wexford said. "She's always motivating us and proud of us and giving us her honest opinion. When she walked into the room, there was a sign of relief. Sue was here to save the day."
Jenna Dolce, 22, of West Chester, also a 2012 captain, said Sherburne always gives "110 percent."
"She does so much for Penn State athletics," Dolce said. "It's incredible how much she does for the school and our team. She's so dedicated to us even though she doesn't have to be."
Dolce said dedicating much of their college experience to being a Lionette is "totally worth it." Sarver added that Sherburne helps pick quality girls for the team who can handle the the stress and the time commitment.
And because of the poise with which she handles herself and the peace she brings to the team, the captains agreed Sherburne was a main factor in molding the Lionettes into a first-place team this year.
"Whenever we're in difficult situations, I always find myself thinking, 'How would Sue handle it?'" Dolce said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.