There is a certain day that comes for every athlete when they have to stop playing the game they love. Although they stop competing, access to the game is still available to them through different avenues such as pick-up games with peers or playing alone for fun. Athletes can still find competitiveness and drive without having to be on an official team. However, this is not the case for a small number of sports.
Senior Belle Blickenstaff is a cheerleader, and her last moments of cheering for the Bisons are coming to an end. Once she cheers her last game, her life will never be the same.
Belle Blickenstaff has been cheering since the fifth grade. Her mother, aunt, grandmother and cousins all cheered and her younger cousins cheer for their respective schools today. Her aunt, Kellee Blickenstaff, has been the Harding cheerleading sponsor for 14 years entering 2017. She cheered for Harding from 1982-86.
The desire to be a college cheerleader came for Belle Blickenstaff during her freshman year of high school at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. She said her older cousin Karli (Blickenstaff) Bradley made her college choice an easy one.
“I knew I wanted to go to Harding my whole life since my family all went here,” Belle Blickenstaff said. “My older cousin was a cheerleader here while I was in high school, and watching here cheer made me want to do it because she was able to cheer and still be involved in club activities. Cheering at Harding is different than most schools because you still get to be a student and be involved; it doesn’t consume your life.”
Belle Blickenstaff said she enjoys being a cheerleader because it allows her to positively influence others while experiencing things other sports would not offer.
“I love the fact that you get to encourage others,” Belle Blickenstaff said. “I feel like we do make a difference in the crowd involvement and in the atmosphere of the game. I’ve played other sports, but cheerleading is completely different because there’s not as much pressure in your performance so it’s more relaxed.”
The love for encouraging others has been evident this year through Belle Blickenstaff’s role as team captain. Senior co-captain Kalli Ashford said Belle Blickenstaff has the perfect qualities to be captain.
“She’s a great leader, and she’s always good at including everybody,” Ashford said. “She listens to others’ opinions but also makes good decisions that are better for the whole team. She’s all around a really encouraging person to everyone she comes in contact with.”
Third year coach Michael Canty said that Belle Blickenstaff’s ability to change personalities in practice has led to her success as captain.
“Most of the time, she’s very serious and determined to get whatever stunt, pyramid or whatever we’re doing in practice done,” Canty said. “When we’re having fun, she’s right there in the middle. She knows how to turn off that captain mode and let loose with the squad. Honestly, I think that’s what makes her a great captain.”
The team welcomed seven freshmen at the beginning of the year, but Belle Blickenstaff said this year’s team has grown close over the past few months.
“This team has been one of my favorite squads,” Belle Blickenstaff said. “We had a lot of returners so we were all comfortable with each other, but also the freshmen have jumped in and fit in so well. Practices are fun because girls on the cheer squad don’t have petty drama. Everyone is friends with everyone, and they want to help each other.”
With the fall sports quickly wrapping up, Belle Blickenstaff knows that her time on her favorite squad is nearing an end.
“It makes me very sad to quit cheerleading because it’s been a part of my life for a really long time,” Belle Blickenstaff said. “I’m excited for the future, but also cheer has been special because I know I can only do it for a certain period of time in my life.”
Belle Blickenstaff is an exercise science major and has plans to attend Arrhythmia Technologies Institute School in Greenville, South Carolina, after graduation. Even though she will be moving on, Blickenstaff will never forget the impact cheerleading has had on her life.
“Cheerleading means relationships, because I’ve made a ton of them over my years of doing it,” Belle Blickenstaff said. “Seeing how girls work together and how they treat each other has definitely helped me spiritually because God calls us to have those relationships and to build each other up. I think cheerleading has definitely done that for me.”