HERSHEY - Pennsylvania's first state championship of the winter season is on Saturday, and it's a first in other ways, too - it's the inaugural PIAA competitive spirit event, in the first year the agency has sanctioned competition cheer as a sport.
The event will be held at Hersheypark Arena.
Two local schools - Mifflin County and Greenwood - qualified for the championships, both in the same division. Rather than dividing schools by traditional classification, the competitors are grouped based on the size of the squad. Both the Huskies and Wildcats are in the small varsity division.
The first team hits the floor at 9 a.m. Greenwood is scheduled to perform its routine at approximately 11:25 a.m. Mifflin County is to go just before 12:15 p.m.
Teams will perform for different judging panels on alternating four-minute intervals. Routines are two and a half minutes. The Universal Cheerleaders Association is assisting the PIAA in the operation of the state championships.
Small varsity has the most entrants among the three divisions - 40 schools were accepted. Qualification ultimately was based on the number of sponsored schools in each district, as is the case with other sports.
District 6, which includes Mifflin County had six total qualifiers, four of which are small varsity. Eight of the 15 qualifiers from District 3 - including Greenwood - are small varsity. In the first season of recognition, the PIAA website shows more than 100 schools in nine of 12 PIAA districts fielding a spirit squad.
Each of the squads will perform for the same judging panel first, with the 10 highest-scoring squads automatically advancing to the finals, and 10 others competing before the other judging panel in a second round based on their scores. Just one additional team out of that group will move on to the championship round, which begins at 3:30 p.m.
Only a champion and runner-up will be declared in each division in the competition.
The routine must include an actual cheer, but it can be performed using music. Contestants work in an area 54 feet by 42 feet, and are penalized for stepping out of bounds. Other factors that can negatively influence score are running long and using banned skills.
The PIAA score sheet allows teams to reach up to 100 points. Presentation, motion, skill and execution are judged in the cheer portion for up to 30 points. Another 70 points are available in the music portion, which includes partner stunts, pyramids, tumbling, jumps and dance.