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Brandon girls earn All-American status in new cheer sport

The voices of more than 80,000 fans fill the air with Florida State University's "war chant."

It's so loud you can hardly hear the person standing next to you.

The Seminoles' Doak Campbell Stadium is splashed with garnet and gold as far as the eye can see as the players take on another opponent and the crowd roars with excitement.

Brandon's Chelsea Campbell and Taylor Hodges not only experience this fervor at every game, they help create it as FSU cheerleaders. They cherish those moments.

Campbell and Hodges, however, also cherish the competitive side of cheering. Both girls rank among the nation's best in a relatively new team called STUNT. The College STUNT Association named Campbell a first-team All-American while Hodges made second team All-American.

STUNT, as described on USA Cheer's collegestunt.org website, "… meets the strict Title 9 requirements of a college sport, while still preserving traditional cheerleading. It removes the crowd-leading element and focuses on the technical and athletic components of cheer, including partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling."

Campbell, a Bloomingdale High graduate entering her senior year at FSU, began cheering at age 9.

"I have been motivated to stick with cheerleading as I have gotten older because the type of cheerleading I have been involved with is continuously changing," Campbell said.

In middle school, she was part of the competitive Brandon All-Stars. In high school, she continued to compete with the All-Stars while also cheering for Bloomingdale..

STUNT just enhanced the experience.

"I would describe STUNT as incredibly fun because of how competitive it can be," Campbell said. "It is an opportunity to see which squad is truly better with both teams competing the same skills side by side, forcing them to be as technically correct as possible.

"Any small error and the other team can win."

Campbell describes her passion for STUNT as an obsession.

Like Campbell, Hodges also started at a young age and developed her talents with the Brandon All-Stars. A sophomore, she first began cheering as a 6-year-old with the Brandon Bears youth football and cheer program.

In 2011, she helped the Brandon All-Stars win gold at the Cheerleading Worlds.

"I owe a lot of my success to my coaches and my teammates through the years from Brandon All-Stars," Hodges said.

After All-Stars and graduating from Newsome High School, making the move to cheer at Florida State seemed a natural extension.

"I was motivated to continue cheering after high school because I loved the idea of cheering in front of 80,000 fans instead of just watching things from the stands," Hodges said. "Cheerleading is just such a huge part of my life that I could not imagine it without it."

Participating in the STUNT competition not only tested her skill because of the emphasis on technique, execution and perfection, but it reminded her that cheerleading is indeed a sport.

"What I don't think people realize about cheerleading is that it isn't all about the smiles, uniforms, and jumping up and down on the sidelines. Cheerleading is a very athletic sport that we train for year-round and STUNT is what comes from all of our hard work," Hodges said.

While the next STUNT competitions don't begin until 2013, Campbell and Hodges continue to enjoy stepping on to the field on fall Saturdays and rooting on the Seminoles.

Hodges described the echoes of the chant and the sight of 80,000 fans doing the chop as a rush.

Campbell said she still hasn't come to grips with the fact this is her last year, but will relish "feeling the energy" surge through the stadium for one more season.

"FSU fans are so passionate and make my job fun because we feed off of their energy," Campbell said. "Being on the sideline with 80,000 fans surrounding you is a feeling that I will take with me for the rest of my life."

Felicia Porzio can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

>>if you go

What: Savannah State at Florida State, 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee

Brandon girls earn All-American status in new cheer sport 09/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 4:30am]
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