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Young Albany cheerleaders learn more than just routines

Albany Elite Sports Tiger Paws cheerleaders work on more than stunts

Academics are just as important to Albany Elite Sports Senior Tiger Paws and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads as the routines that win competitions.


The Albany Elite Sports Senior and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads and coaches. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

The Albany Elite Sports Senior and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads and coaches. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

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Albany Elite Sports Tiger Paws Cheer Squads

Academics are just as important to Albany Elite Sports Senior Tiger Paws and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads as the routines that win competitions.

Academics are just as important to Albany Elite Sports Senior Tiger Paws and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads as the routines that win competitions.

ALBANY — It was not pom-poms that the cheerleaders brought with them to practice at the Uptown Dance Studio for a recent practice. Instead, many arrived clutching their report cards.

To see photos from a recent Tiger Paws practice, CLICK HERE and go to our Spotted Gallery.

Academics are just as important to Albany Elite Sports Senior Tiger Paws and Junior Tiger Paws cheering squads as the routines that win competitions.

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Tiger Paws captains Quintessa Carnegie, left and Tierra Baker, right. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

O’tessa Robinson is the squad’s head coach, assisted by her sisters, Gistacy Brown and Latonya Peterson. The trio of siblings cheered in elementary, middle and high school and in college, and they are quite serious about teaching the value of a solid education.

“To be a member of the competition squad, cheerleaders must have great cheer potential, satisfactory grades and great conduct,” Brown said.

Whether a child is excelling or not performing up to expectations at school, the coaches want to know about it. Girls on the team who are struggling with their school work come early to practice for tutoring.

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Tianna Baker, age 13, enjoys doing stunts. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

The Tiger Paws team was formed in March, 2009, as a cheer squad for the Albany Elite Sports basketball teams. Each year the number of participants grew, and in 2012 the team started competition cheering. Last year on April 12, the girls came home from Jacksonville, Fla., with the national championship trophy in the 14 and under division after leaving a couple of dozen other teams in their dust.

Any student may try out for the team, but even the most talented will not make it without satisfactory grades and excellent school conduct. Fourteen-year-old Tierra Baker knows all about the consequences of bad behavior. She wanted to be on the team three years ago, but her record of frequent school detention overshadowed her cheering ability. Being turned down by the coaches was a defining moment for Baker, who said she made up her mind to prove herself worthy of the team. And that is just what happened.

Tierra openly admits that her behavior was bad, both at school and at home. But by the time the next available tryouts came up, it was a completely different story. Detention was no longer a problem, her grades improved and now she says, with a big smile, that her mother is proud of her.

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Coaches for the Tiger Paws, left to right, Dr. Latonya Peterson, O’tessa Robinson and Dr. Gistacy Brown show off the team’s National Championship trophy from April 2013. The three are sisters and cheered from elementary school through college. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

“I have matured a lot,” Tierra says proudly.

In her second year on the team, Tierra serves as one of two captains.

Quintessa Carnegie is the team’s other captain and, at age 13, has cheered for four years. When asked what her experience as a Tiger Paw has meant to her, she quickly answered that it has inspired her to do more, and better, in school.

As members of a team that has taken first place in numerous competitions, the question is posed as to how the captains would feel if they did not take top honors at the next event. Both girls stressed that the team is ready to take on any competitor but that if another teamed scored higher, it would not get them down but just make them try harder the next time.

Another team member, Tianna Baker, 13, was anxious to speak about being a Tiger Paw. She said she really likes doing stunts and stated that she has gained confidence in herself.

“I like the attention,” she said with a grin.

There are expenses involved in competition cheering, most of which is paid by parents. Robinson said, however, that finances would never stop a child from participating. Fundraisers and sponsorships are available, but it is not unusual for the sister coaches to come out of their own pockets. Aside from uniforms and travel, it costs $65 per child to enter a competition. They say donations are tax deductible.

Community service is mandatory for Tiger Paws members. They have made cards for senior citizens and participated in Stop the Violence and Family Fun Day. The biggest community events are raising money for and participating in Relay for Life and the MS Walk. A cancer patient or survivor is invited to speak to the girls each year to give them a realistic example of how the money they raise is sued. A cheerleader once spoke to the group, herself an MS sufferer.

While Tiger Paws practices may seem at times chaotic, one call to attention from any of the coaches brings silence and formation. When asked a question, the answer is always a polite, “Yes, ma’am.”

Both squads competed earlier this month in Havana, Fla., and came away with first place accolades. The senior team also took the award for best overall dance. Both teams were named grand champions.