Three cheers for Buncombe’s state champ cheerleading squads


Vittoria Duque, up top, holds Roberson’s state title trophy.

By Pete Zamplas- “Exhilarating” and “surreal” is how one cheerleader described the championship feeling, as three Buncombe high schools have won state cheerleading titles.

Erwin, North Buncombe and T.C. Roberson from the Mountain Athletic Conference (MAC) are all 3A schools. But they won various state titles. TCR is in D1 (larger 4A/3A) small varsity with 11 athletes competing, in non-coed with tumbling. N.B. is small varsity non-tumbling; with the maximum of 15 girls. Erwin with 24 girls won among larger non-tumbling, non-coed squads. Co-ed squads have steeper expectations.

Tuscola, which joins the MAC next fall, and 2A Franklin made it five WNC squads prevailing. North Henderson made the top five. Enka, A.C. Reynolds, Pisgah and Tuscola also reached the state meet in Raleigh before Thanksgiving.


Erwin Lady Warriors do a pyramid, at the football playoff finale. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Clyde A. Erwin repeated as state champ, winning its 13th such crown in the 15 years Kim Ponder has led them. Roberson also repeated as state champs, with its seventh state title. North Buncombe won its ninth state title — six NCHSAA, to go with three N.C. Cheerleading Coaches Association crowns.

The Carolina Cup for the overall best squad is a very recent honor, now that team scores are released. Erwin was within three points of that trophy last year, in third. This time, the Lady Warriors scored 82.9 out of 100 points. That put them second, 2.5 points behind co-ed Leesville. Erwin does not compete for a national title, Coach Ponder said. “Our ultimate goal is to be state champion.”

TC Tumbling Trust

In contrast, Roberson goes for national titles and won two including last season, when Bree Meinzer Hodge was North Carolina’s cheerleading coach of the year. The 2000 West Henderson alumnus won TCR’s six prior state titles. Now an assistant, she turned reins to Cortney Erxleben for this state title. Erxleben was competitive cheer coach at her alma mater, Franklin. Vittoria Duque and Shaina Wynne are TCR captains.

Roberson is the sole WNC squad still in tumbling, which hinges on teamwork and “trust for success.” This is about “trusting in coaching decisions, trusting teammates and trusting in one’s own ability,” Erxleben stated. “Trust that teammates will catch you, and do their part when stunting. Trust that you have the skills to execute tumbling properly. Trust its muscle memory” from practices, and “you won’t mess up even when you’re nervous.”


North Buncombe does a pyramid, with dynamic leg stretches.

‘Extra Sparkly’

North Buncombe promoted 2011 alumnus Holly (Hubler) Griffin to head varsity coach last week. She was competition coach. She was an assistant for the prior four years, while studying elementary education online from East Carolina. She now teaches second grade.

She changed the competitive style from “long narrative cheers” to “crowd-involving” ones and spelled out the school name in letter cut outs.

“We’re known for our emotions being sharp and tight,” generating focus in routines, Griffin said. She has flair for the dramatic, for her squad on game sidelines. “You’ll see our girls up in the air. That gets (fans’) attention,” such as when scores get out of hand. Even then “you’ll find us confident, with heads held high,” Griffin said. “Make them (fans) supportive,” she said. “Our slogan is make your school proud.”

Sign-chant combos include “Go, Fight, Win” and “Get up, make some Noise for your Blackhawk Boys.”

Erwin’s Ponder liked the NBHS state routine. “They’re getting back to when Dee Dee Warren put North Buncombe on the map.” Griffin cheered under Warren, who trumpeted a different slogan each year. She still has a T-shirt saying “hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.” Griffin’s motivational slogans on Facebook ahead of state include: urged “stay focused and extra sparkly,” “hit those routines!” and “we believe, ladies.”

She quotes actor-pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: “Blood, sweat, respect. The first two you give. The last one you earn.” She relayed soccer superstar Mia Hamm’s lesson that behind “hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game, and never looked back…Play for her.”


Erwin cheerleading head coach Kim Ponder, at left, and daughter Lauren Boggs are at Erwin’s football finale.

Big Red Title Machine

Erwin captains are seniors Adrienne Bradley and Destiny Stout. Keylan McDaris, a sophomore, has cheered on varsity for both years in high school. She said the state triumph feels “exhilarating.”

She called Coach Ponder “very encouraging. If you mess up, she’ll give you feedback. But she doesn’t make it a big deal.”

Ponder is hailed for devising routines to use the entire space, to avoid “crowding” and score-torpedoing mistakes. “Put in what you’ll hit.” She said that in meets “Erwin is known for enthusiasm, the ‘wow’ factor, and a clean (mistake-free) routine that looks effortless.”

Ponder, a 1979 EHS alumnus, cheered when trampolines could be used before safety rules tightened. She is among two dozen in the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Kim Ponder is “more than a coach,” Erwin principal Jim Brown said. “She’s a role model. She emphasizes discipline. She has high standards both for performance of cheerleading, and outside of the sport.” Erwin cheerleaders donate about $1,000 raised from cosmetic sales to a charity each year as a way to “make a difference.”

Coaching “seems more like a calling, than a job,” Ponder said. Her goal is to “build inner-strength and self-drive in them. Three-fourths is mental toughness — the belief ‘nothing is going to stop me.’” She urges that “you can do anything you try,” and do one’s “personal best. I challenge them to reach their full potential, and even go beyond it. You need lofty goals. End a routine knowing ‘we gave it everything we got.’”

She espouses strength training, to develop muscle and stamina for back flips, pyramid support and tosses such as “express up” and “tip top.”

During the football season, the squad hones its game routines and steadily learns a state competition routine. “Some steps intertwine, and we implement them to a cheer on Friday nights,” Ponder said. She re-choreographs a group move, if having to sub a girl due to injury.

“We have a target, and expectation to deliver” in meets and in cheering at games, she said. “We are constantly moving, with only a minute or two between dances and chants. We use poms and signs to make ourselves bigger, to draw your eye in.”

Erwin Warriors jubilantly cheer at the last home football game in 2016. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Ponder is in-game tactician during football games. Being “sensitive” to situations, she skips “we are the best” chants if the team is losing but amps up “Let’s go, Big Red!” for key plays. She directs adjustments at halftime, has a brief post-game huddle then addresses details Monday mornings. An Erwin cheerleader of the week is announced right after Friday games.

“We cater to the ball teams,” she said. “We learn crowd response. Our role is to help make Erwin look good.” If the team is far behind, the squad still chants such as “support your Warriors” or “Warrior pride.” As Ponder said, “win or lose, we’re here for you.”

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