Attending class, studying and working out is the basic routine for most students. But for Gabriel Campos, his schedule must include time for running, jumping, tumbling and lifting; girls that is. Campos is a cheerleader on the Apache Cheerleading Squad.
“I grew up playing soccer at every competitive level and Division I college football,” he said. “I excelled at both, but I didn’t pick up cheerleading until my senior year of high school when football playoffs were done. I find the demand in physical ability is just as hard in competitive cheer than in the other sports. Daily, I have a human being on top of me. I constantly have to squeeze and find muscles in my body I didn’t have.”
Cheerleading coach Zach Houchin said he has a strict training program to prepare the team for games and competitions.
“I like to have them all sweating before they leave,” he said. “I’m just doing it how I think it should be done and running things the way that I feel is the best for them as far as their skill level.”
Houchin said he is also looking forward to increasing the intensity of the tryout process.
“The auditions are the same as it was when I was here (2005-2006),” he said. “My goal is to have a more advanced tryout process. I do like to have some alternates so that if I need to replace someone I can.”
Like the Apache Belles, the cheerleading team also has a weight requirement.
“It’s more understated than that of the Belles,” Houchin said. “For the girls to be flyers it is recommended that they be smaller. I don’t like to say that a girl has to weigh a certain amount because if she’s good, she’s good. But it is highly recommended that they aim for under 115 lbs.”
Houchin said cheerleading is just as demanding as other sports on campus.
“Cheerleading requires a whole lot of different athleticism that football doesn’t require,” he said. “And guys like it because you’re surrounded by girls. It’s not as structured. It’s more personal. It’s more of a single soul sport with an intimate setting because it’s you and your partner performing stunts, performing acrobatic skills.”
Campos said he receives a lot of support from his family.
“They see it the way I do,” he said. “If it is helping pay for school there is no problem with it. Because in the long run I want to graduate and be successful and cheer is just helping me out.”
Cheerleader Hunter Minahan said he also understands how important support from friends and family can be.
“Since the first day we met, the team hung out that night,” he said. “Pretty much everybody is there for everybody. If you need anything there is at least one person on this team that will get you what you need.”
Although a good support system is in place, cheerleader Josh Fredericks said it is still difficult to be a male cheerleader.
“There a lot of stereotypes to go with cheerleading,” he said. “People think we are very feminine, under athletisized and that cheerleading is not a sport. But once people get to know our skill level they can get a sense of who we are and what we do.”
Minahan said cheerleading is a lot more than what is seen in movies.
“People think they know,” he said. “‘Bring It On’ is nothing like this honestly. Yeah, we cheer and do stuff like that, but it’s a lot harder. We got guys my size; 140 lbs and I can throw a 115 lb girl up into the air and catch her standing in my hands. That’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world.”
Houchin said that cheerleading is a lot more difficult than sports that do not get stereotyped.
“What we’re doing is hard if not harder as other sports that guys are playing that don’t get stereotyped,” he said. “So what I would say to guys that are considering cheering is that you’ve go to do it and give it a try. You have to see behind the scenes before you can make any kind of judgment because it is hard and involves a lot of skill that not just anyone can do.”
Frederick said he tries to put everything in a positive light to overcome this label.
“I try to erase all stereotypes,” he said. “And as you can see we have a huge amount of diversity on our team.”
Fredericks said the team is also working hard to have more success and acknowledgment.
“Two to three years ago we didn’t even place in nationals,” he said. “Last year we got second and this year we are going to bring home the national championship ring. After we win, things will be completely different.”
Houchin said the team will go to Daytona Beach in February.
“All our training is leading up to our national competition,” he said. “We got second last year, so this year we are the team to beat and we definitely have a chance. So all of our practices are training hard and hopefully leading up to a national championship.”
Minahan said he also hopes for the team’s success.
“Nationals is where it’s at,” he said. “It’s mainly us against Navarro College and TVCC. There are a lot of nerves out there and everyone’s there for the ring. But we will be up there with the Apache Belles. We will have a national championship just like every other team on campus.”
Campos said cheerleading does not get as much recognition as other sports because of the limitations placed on sideline routines at football games.
“It is very hard to show everyone all the time how skilled we are,” he said. “They don’t see the sweat and hard work we put in day-in and day-out to get prepared to compete at the national level. All everyone sees is us on the sideline of games rooting other people on. I would like to see people give it a little more respect.”
Minahan said the rush he gets from cheerleading is worth the hard work.
“I love the adrenaline and I love tumbling,” he said. “We can kind of do what the big boys do but only to a certain extent. So we (Hunter and Frederick) call ourselves stumblers instead of tumblers.”
Besides the love for the sport, Minahan said he loves cheerleading because it saved his life.
“I was a gymnast when I was a little kid, but I had to quit because my parents got divorced,” he said. “When I got into high school, I met a friend who was on this cheer team. He saw I was going through a lot of rough stuff and about to end up in jail, so he got me into cheerleading. If I wasn’t cheerleading I would probably be in jail.”
Campos said cheerleading has also taught him valuable lessons in life.
“Cheerleading keeps me in shape,” he said. “It makes me push myself physically and mentally. I have learned to love it.”
Although he continues to cheer, Campos said he is pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Business Administrations.
“Ever since I was a kid I have always wanted to be a fireman,” he said. “The bachelors degree opens up my opportunities and, over all, helps me be a more educated member of the society, and cheer has been a great help on my path to reaching my goals.”
Campos said learning to depend on others is a trait that cheerleading and firefighting have in common.
“When your a firefighter you’re not just depending on yourself. You depend on your whole squadron to be able to put out a fire or to be able to get out of a burning building alive,” he said. “And when I’m on the cheer team, my teammate and I have someone in the air. I’m depending on my spotter for that person to be safe. It helps me to learn to be focused on what I’m doing and to trust someone else not only with my safety but with someone else.”
After cheering at football games for 87,000 people, Houchin said he is happy to be a coach at TJC.
“I have a real love for the extreme activity,” he said. “What we’re doing is extreme and I have a real passion for it. I cheered at Tyler Junior College just like these guys have. I have a real passion for Tyler Junior College because this is where I got my start. Then moved on to OU after being recruited and spent 4 years there and its great to be back.”