UNION COUNTY — The Union County Recreation Department will host its own in-house cheerleading program along with its football program this fall.
This is the second year in which Union County Recreation Department (UCRD) programs are overseen by Timken Sports Complex. Union County Recreational Program Director Dolton Williams said the UCRD football program exceeded expectations last year, with a 30 percent increase in participation. The new “Stinger Minors” league was introduced, and the entire league received new uniforms and helmets. Williams said he plans for the programs offered at UCRD to continue to grow.
“That’s part of the process — to keep adding programs,” Williams said.
The newest addition is the 2016 “Rec Cheerleading” program, which is the cheer program that accompanies Stinger and Flag Football, which will be run by the UCRD again this year rather than a third party. Registration for the cheer program — for ages 5-7 for flag teams and ages 8-12 for tackle teams — will be from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at Union County Recreation Department, located at 111 Thomas Street, Union .
The registration deadline is Aug. 26, but participants are encouraged to register early to receive full benefits of the $55 registration fee, which will include official cheer uniforms, pom poms, and a free cheer camp which will be held from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, with experienced cheer coaches, volunteers and snacks for participants.
The UCRD Cheer Program Coordinator is Tiffany Grady-Hudgins, who was a four-year varsity cheerleader at the former Lockhart High School and selected as an All-American cheerleader during her junior year. The All-American selection earned her a spot performing during the Citrus Bowl Halftime Show in 1997. She was inducted into the Union County Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.
Grady-Hudgins said the program will create a solid foundation for the children who participate, as is the case with the UCRD-run football and basketball programs.
“We were really excited about the success of the 2015 football and basketball seasons, and we expect this year to be even better because we have made it through some trial and error,” she said. “There will be a lot of new additions to programs this year.”
She hopes to give the children who participate a foundation that will lead them in that direction, and she said coaches and volunteers are being put in place to help meet that goal.
“Our goal is to set the bar high and keep building to improve,” Grady-Hudgins said.
Grady-Hudgins is well acquainted with UCRD programs as she played basketball and cheered in UCRD programs as a child.
“Rec. cheerleading helped me with social skills, getting to know the other girls I cheered with,” she said. “You get to be a little bit goofy, and it made me not be afraid to look that way and laugh at myself.”
By the time she was cheer captain at LHS, Grady-Hudgins was far from shy and was comfortable performing in front of crowds. She said she credited her experiences with the UCRD programs for much of that.
Grady-Hudgins said this year’s cheer program will focus on athleticism, attitude and building self confidence, and she wants to break down walls created by cheerleader stereotypes.
“I wasn’t a typical cheerleader,” Grady-Hudgins said. “Girls tend to think cheerleading is something only ‘girly girls’ do. I challenge the ‘tomboys’ to come try out. They may be surprised to find out it’s something they would actually enjoy. It’s not just standing there, watching the football players, clapping and screaming.”
Grady-Hudgins said a couple of the girls she coached during softball season have decided to sign up for this year’s cheer program.
“It’s stepping outside the box a little bit for some of the girls who never pictured themselves in a cheer uniform,” she said.
Some of the coaches/volunteers for the program will come from the Union County High School cheer team, and there will also be team moms and chaperones who will help direct cheers during games and help keep the children focused on their tasks.
The program will also include weekly practices at UCRD, giving participants refreshers on what is learned during camp.
Wyshell “Pooh” Garrett said she looks forward to volunteering her time with the UCRD cheer program for the 9th year.
“I want to try to be a positive role model and teach the girls self confidence,” Garrett said. “It’s not about money or recognition; it’s for the kids.”
Grady-Hudgins agreed with Garrett, adding that coaches and other volunteers will serve as mentors for the girls in the program, helping them learn social skills.
Another new aspect of this year’s cheer program is that participants will perform an actual halftime show during important games, such as the “Pro Bowl” being introduced this year. Grady-Hudgins said she is working to have special effects for the program’s halftime show performances, which will offer the girls more spotlight than in years past.
Williams said the Pro Bowl will be the UCRD league’s version of an All-Star or championship game. He also mentioned that the plan for next year is to start the season earlier and play against teams from surrounding counties.
Grady-Hudgins said what she looks most forward to during this cheer season is seeing the girls progress throughout the season.
“I look forward to starting them off right at a young age and watching them grow,” she said.
For more information about the 2016 Union County Recreation Department Cheer Program, call 864-251-4330.
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-762-4128.