by Dustin Jayroe // Photos by Jamison Mosley
Like many of their student-athlete colleagues, cheerleaders are involved in a sport that is extremely demanding of time, requiring constant devotion on and off the field that makes it essentially a second life, stacked atop the already stressful time of trials and tribulations that college provides. Cheerleaders must always be “on,” constantly being watched for guidance and inspiration. They represent their schools at community and philanthropic events and are role models for little girls and boys all over the state. And they love it. There is an inherent, dutiful passion that culminates from the dedication to a sport, where time and effort have gifted talent and achievement, and cheerleading is no different.
But we so often forget about them. These sideline warriors and community enrichers are just as deserving of attention and praise as any other — maybe even more so. They put in the work of early morning workouts and after-school practices. They clock-in on game day, no matter if it is home or away, win or lose. And unlike their counterparts, there is no off-season, as cheerleaders are often present for different sports seasons and are gearing up for national competitions when they are not.
With football season back in full swing, AY About You wants to shine a spotlight on this companion sport that is filled with some incredible and inspiring young adults. We worked with all four of the Division-1 colleges with football programs in the state to profile one student-athlete cheerleader per school, to tell both his or her individual story and that of their cheerleading family members throughout Arkansas.
– University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff –
Deonta Alor differs from many in his cheerleading family. He did not begin participating in the sport until about six years ago in what was his sophomore year of high school, while many who progress into college athletics have usually played the sport for their entire life. This is, above all else, a credit to Alor’s talent and hard work that has propelled him to such acclaim.
“I had no previous cheerleading experience, I just had a back handspring series and a decent toe touch,” Alor says about trying out for high school cheer. In fact, he did not even have the right shoes at the time. “I tried out in a pair of converse,” he jokes.
Despite these limitations that might hamstring others in the same situation, Alor was a natural who seemed destined for the sport. The rest is history. He would go on to cheer throughout the remainder of his high school career and now at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). This past summer, Alor was selected to join an elite group in becoming an instructor for the National Cheerleaders Association.
“My favorite part about cheerleading is game day,” Alor says. “I love when the games are really intense, the crowd is cheering with us and the team is fighting for the win.”
And even though most fans who have filled the stands are familiar with the act of cheering and cheerleading, in general, there is much more that those on the outside are not as well aware of.
In Alor’s opinion, cheerleading is one of the most physical sports around and is also “very overwhelming mentally, because there are so many areas you have to excel in to be considered a ‘good’ cheerleader,” he explains. Things like stunting, tumbling and flying require peak physical condition, as well as the expectation to look the part. It is grueling, rigorous and exciting, all the same.
Despite his love for the game, Alor has plans to eventually move beyond the sport. He is currently a junior at UAPB, in his first year of nursing school.
“Although I may be involved in a lot, my main priority is academics,” Alor says. “I’ve participated in two nursing summer internships at Howard University and Duke University, and I am also an honor student.”
His goal is to become a registered nurse and then pursue forensic nursing after graduation. And with all of the memories and fun he has had as a cheerleader over the years, the most important features that the sport has provided him are the foundations for his future.
“Cheer has taught me to have a lot of patience, resilience, to be open-minded when given corrections and has also taught me how to work cooperatively with others,” Alor says proudly. “All of these skills will be essential when I am working in a hospital with other nurses and health care professionals.”
– University of Central Arkansas –
A native of Hot Springs and a graduate of Lake Hamilton High School, Lacie Bobus has been cheering for more than a decade. But what would become one of her life’s primary passions did not originate as so, but rather, happenstance.
“When I was younger,” Bobus remembers, “my mom just put me in [cheer] because I was always flipping all around the house. It just went from there.”
What started as simply a mother’s way of providing an outlet for an energetic and gymnastically inclined daughter to express herself quickly turned into much more than that.
Throughout her high school career, Bobus was a standout. She attended a number of national cheer camps where she won individual competitions in various areas of cheer and achieved All American and top scorer honors. She was also selected for a level five all-star team while in high school, which is the highest team distinction there is.
“I drove from Hot Springs to Little Rock two times a week for practice,” Bobus says, “so that I could be on the best team that was closest to me. Our team went to the world championships in Orlando and we placed 11th. That was a pretty big deal for us.”
Bobus was fortunate to be recognized for her years of hard work with the opportunity to cheer for the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) after high school, and the accolades have continued to flourish. Last year, as a freshman, she and her teammates represented their school proudly at nationals in Daytona, placing fifth out of a field of hundreds.
“We don’t just shake our pom poms on the field,” Bobus jokes. “We have hours and hours of practice, for both school events and outside competitions. I don’t think people know a lot about competitions or how they work. People might just think that it’s just a performance, but we go up against a lot of other, really good teams. We put a lot of time and effort into practicing for just a 2-minute-30-seconds routine. There’s so much that goes into it.”
Now almost halfway through her sophomore year at UCA, Bobus is majoring in elementary education and hopes that cheer remains a part of her life well after graduation.
“After college I plan to either open a cheer gym or be involved in coaching cheer, somehow,” Bobus says. “That’s my dream, to be involved in cheer and either own a gym, coach a team or coach at a school I teach at.”
– Arkansas State University –
As a senior at Arkansas State, Apple Dennie is coming down the home stretch of what has been an eventful college career. She has taken her core foundation of cheerleading and expanded upon it to a number of different ventures, including becoming a bit of a household name this year in pageants.
“I never thought that I was a pageant girl,” Dennie jokes. “I’m still not, but I think that’s something that works for me.”
Last year, Dennie stepped outside of her comfort zone and entered the Miss Arkansas State University pageant, which is also a preliminary for Miss Arkansas. She exhibits a humble confidence in herself, but even with that, she did not dream of doing as well as the other participants, many of whom have the seasoning and experience of an entire life in pageantry.
Against the odds, she finished in third place. Her competitive spirit then took hold.
“I thought, ‘oh, I might be good at this. I might actually have a chance,’” Dennie recalls. “So, I started competing in other prelims, and by the grace of God, I won the very last one. I was the 45th [qualifier] in the class of 2019 for Miss Arkansas.”
At Miss Arkansas, Dennie once again defied the odds. In just her first year participating, she finished in the top-10.
“When they called my name for top-10, the girls around me said, ‘Apple, they just called your name,’” Dennie remembers. “And I was like, ‘no, they didn’t.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“It was an amazing experience. I would not change anything about it. I thought maybe it would be a one-time thing, but I definitely plan on staying in the system.”
But even with this newfound love for pageants, her first love is still queen of all — cheerleading.
Dennie has cheered for most of her life, starting at around the age of five, continuing through high school and now for four years at Arkansas State. By far, her experience in college has been the most beloved.
“Once I got into college, the whole game-day atmosphere was completely different,” Dennie says. “And I’m able to be so much more involved in the community now.”
“But, I don’t think people realize how much time commitment and how much work we actually put into it,” Dennie goes on to say. “We have practice every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. We have two workouts per week at 6:30 in the morning, and we have multiple appearances throughout the week. Then we have a football game every Saturday during the fall, and towards the end of the semester, we’ll have basketball games and volleyball games throughout the week. I’m busy every single day.”
Add in the forefronted focus of school work, and it becomes very obvious just how much these student-athletes in cheer have on their plate. But Dennie, like her fellow cheerleaders, has embraced these challenges, using them as learning experiences that have better prepared her for life after school.
She is majoring in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in medical sciences and minoring in Spanish. Her goal is to get into pediatric dentistry to work with kids, and she wants to be fluent in Spanish so that she can make patients who may not speak English very well feel more comfortable.
– University of Arkansas –
Keely Womack is a senior at the University of Arkansas and has been a member of the athletic department’s pom squad for her entire four years on The Hill.
She has spent her whole life, since the age of 2, dancing competitively. When she was in middle school, Womack joined her school’s cheerleading squad, and while she enjoyed her time cheerleading, her primary passion was always dancing. So, she took aim at a sport that combined the two and tried out for the Razorback Pom Squad.
“With pom, you still get the sidelines, but you also get to do the dancing part, so I really enjoy that,” Womack says. “I decided to try out for the pom squad [at the U of A], and when I made it, I knew that this was the school for me.”
While the structure of Fayetteville may be a little bit different, where pom and cheerleaders are technically two separate groups that make up the tight-knit family that is the spirit squads, the dedication requirements are still the same.
“We practice three days a week, and then we have appearances and all kinds of other activities throughout the other days of the week,” Womack says. “We dance for football, basketball and baseball, and then we do the welcoming for soccer as well.”
With so much to juggle, Womack is still able to keep her grades up, carrying a perfect 4.0 GPA through three of her semesters at UA.
Now, she has another exciting endeavor to add to her already busy life, and yet another reason to feel attached to her spirit family and the university. Her longtime boyfriend, Trevor Hayes, proposed to her at the Razorbacks’ first game of the season this year on August 31 against Portland State. She (of course) said yes.
As thrilled as she is to have found her happily ever after, she feels just as fortunate to have been involved in the Razorback spirit program and says that most of the young women she has connected with in the sport will be bridesmaids at her wedding.
Hayes and Womack plan to tie the knot next July after she graduates.
Womack is a business management major and is minoring in both marketing and communications.