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A couple of Indian Land High School students can add their names to the school’s list of signed athletes this year after receiving word from the University of South Carolina in Columbia that they have made the team.
Only this time the team isn’t on the gridiron or court, it’s on the sidelines.
Seniors Alexis Barjona and Megan Leskody were among more than 120 cheerleaders from across the state to try out for coveted spots on the Gamecocks’ two cheerleading squads and were among the 54 who made it.
Barjona and Leskody will both cheer for the university’s all-girl cheer squad when they report to school on Aug. 1 – an accomplishment made even more special since they’re the first students in ILHS history to do so.
“I’m really excited,” Barjona said. “I just remember all those girls who got cut. I thought I was going to get cut day one.”
“We were saying it hasn’t hit us yet,” Leskody said. “I’m shell-shocked – I don’t think it’s going to hit me until that first game when we run out of the tunnel.”
Though not technically a “sport,” don’t think for a moment that collegiate cheerleading is not athletic.
More akin to gymnastics than your regular, old-fashioned rah-rah cheerleading, collegiate cheer hopefuls can’t even get on the tryout field without a good grasp of “stunting.”
If you’ve ever seen a college football game or competitive cheerleading, you’ve seen stunting in action: Squad members throw one of their own high into the air, she twists, flips and falls back into the arms of her squad-mates.
While Barjona is the only one of the two who has cheered for the Warriors, both girls have a solid background in sports and competitive cheering for the Charlotte Allstars, one of the country’s premiere competitive cheerleading programs. In fact, the two will join three other Charlotte Allstar team members on the USC squad.
As part of the Charlotte Allstar team, they practiced four days a week and attended competitions year round.
Both Leskody, a 12-year veteran competitive cheerleader, and Barjona, a competitive cheerleading natural who rose through the team ranks in just a year to make the Level 5 team, accompanied the Charlotte Allstars to Orlando, Fla., on April 29-May 2 to compete in the World Championship at Disney World.
Both girls credit the Charlotte Allstars and coach Leigh Fowlkes with inspiring and encouraging them to try out for the Gamecocks squads.
“Leigh was my biggest supporter,” Leskody said. “She saw the potential in me and she pushed me, and that’s the reason why I am where I am today.”
ILHS Principal Kathy Faris, a former cheer coach, said she knows how hard her two students worked to get where they are.
“They’re great students; I couldn’t ask for any better,” Faris said. “They’re smart, they’re articulate and I know they will represent Indian Land High School well.
“I think this is a great opportunity for them to get involved in the college experience,” she said. “To cheer in front of 80,000 fans is going to be an experience of a lifetime.”
The girls’ parents are understandably proud of their daughters.
“What they do is really athletic,” said Barjona’s mother, Stacey, a former professional cheerleader with the Oakland Raiders. “I’m telling you, those football players have nothing on these competitive cheerleaders.
“Alexis is one of those people who, when she puts her mind to it, she gets it done,” she said. “I’m extremely proud of her.
“This has been her dream for ever,” Leskody’s mother, Dawn, said. “She did get accepted to Presbyterian College, but she really wanted to be a Gamecock cheerleader.
“She’s just amazing,” Dawn Leskody said of her daughter. “She’s driven. She’s drives herself to be the best at whatever she does and I’m excited for her.”
Meanwhile, both Barjona and Leskody said they’re staying focused on their duties to the Charlotte Allstars and look forward to getting to Columbia.
Both said they’re ready and looking forward to jumping into the middle of the action at USC.
In summing up their feelings, Barjona smiles and has two words that say it all: “Go Gamecocks!”