June 2, 2008
By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
TUSCALOOSA - Though Alabama's football season is still more than two months away, the Crimson Tide cheerleaders are busy this summer hosting what has become some of the Southeast's most successful junior, high school and college cheer camps.
The squad's camp season began Thursday, when 1,000 cheerleaders from schools around the Southeast descended on Coleman Coliseum for the first camp of the summer, which ends June 1.
The first camp is just one of many that will bring thousands through Tuscaloosa this summer, said cheer coordinator Debbie Greenwell.
"We'll have about 5,000 come through this summer and they come from the whole Southeast, not just from Alabama," Greenwell said. "They come from everywhere. We'll host high school camps and then a college camp, which we have about 1,400 enrolled in, with college cheer teams and college dance teams."
The camps, which are run through the Universal Cheerleaders Association, run almost nonstop between now and the end of July. After the first camp ends Sunday, 1,500 more cheerleaders will arrive in Tuscaloosa June 3.
With more than 5,000 people, plus their families, moving through Tuscaloosa this summer, said coach Pat Greenwell, the business boost that comes with the camps will more than make up for the University's college students, who may have left the city for the summer months.
"Now, with the economy being a little down, this is a real boost to the area," he said. "Go to any of the restaurants and you'll see at least someone in there that is a cheerleader or a sponsor or a parent."
The average day at an Alabama cheerleading camp begins at 6:30 a.m., when students eat breakfast. After a 30-minute warm-up at 8:00, campers will attend instructional classes throughout the morning, learning an extreme routine that consists of tumbling, jumps, dances and cheers.
After lunch, squads receive private coaching until dinner, and then a night session with the squad's "big brother" or "big sister," who goes over the day with each group and prepares them for the next day.
The camps also feature a sports day, when squads can learn game-day traditions for their schools. On the final day, students will perform the routines they learned throughout the week. What makes these camps different, Debbie Greenwell said, is that families will often hang around throughout the camp instead of just dropping off their children.
Final day competitions can draw as many as 6,000 people in the stands, she said.
"A lot of camps, the kids get dropped off and it's like, `We're going on vacation,'" she said. "Here, they come on vacation with the kids."
Many of Alabama's current and former cheerleaders were once attendees at UCA camps held on the Alabama campus, making the camps a great recruiting tool for future Tide cheerleaders. Bringing in so many cheerleaders gives the Alabama cheer coaches a chance to get to know potential UA students. If they wish to continue cheering in college, relationships are already built between the students and Alabama's coaches.
More importantly, Greenwell said, is that the camps serve as a learning experience for the cheerleaders that attend them, despite the exposure each of the students will get to the Alabama campus.
"I think the most important thing is that when they come to camp they come to a very organized situation, with the best instructors and good team building for their team that they can take back to their school," she said. "Hopefully by us hosting it they get a taste of Alabama and will fall in love with our campus. We have great facilities, and they don't get that everywhere they go. We hope they're experiencing Alabama."
As for the Alabama squad's preparation for the upcoming season, Greenwell said, a two-week break in June will give her a first look at her new group.
"We run these first two camps back-to-back and will finish June 6, and June 6 the new team will report for the first time," she said. "We're excited about that. They'll practice once in June and once in July, then we come back for our college cheer camp where we're the campers. Then we report back about two weeks before school starts to get ready for football season."