By Jeanne Sager
LAKE HUNTINGTON March 15, 2005 If you ask Heather Gorr to describe herself, she can do it in a word: cheerleader.
The effervescent Sullivan West senior says its just part of who she is.
And this weekend, Gorr will be stowing her pom poms in the backseat of her car and driving with mom Cindy to Niagara Falls to represent her school in the New York State Miss Cheerleader of America competition (her father Rick will cheer her on from home).
For Gorr, its a chance to compete for scholarship money that will help fund her studies of medicine at Penn State.
Its also a chance to be recognized for doing something she loves.
There are plenty of football scholarships, but there arent many cheerleading scholarships out there, Gorr said. Believe me, Ive looked.
But Gorr, who has been keeping the crowds pepped up on the sidelines at Bulldog games since ninth grade, stumbled across the Miss Cheerleader competition with the help of her guidance counselor.
She filled out an application, wrote up an essay and was one of about 50 girls from across New York selected as state finalists.
Miss Cheerleader of America is actually held in each of the 50 states winners get a state crown, but there is no national competition.
Instead, the contest, which includes a pageant-styled evening gown selection and an interview, is focused on awarding stellar cheerleaders monies to be used in college.
This is not a beauty, bathing suit, cheer skill or talent competition, Pageant Coordinator Lucy Wiesend said in a press release issued by the competition. The judges are trained to look for the All-American girl, who normally would not even think about being in a pageant.
Gorr surmises she qualifies shes an Honor Roll student with a hearty helping of school spirit.
Gorr grew up in Middletown, where she tried her hand at everything from ballet to tap and jazz dancing as a child.
At the end of eighth grade, she moved to Narrowsburg and ended up in the Sullivan West School District.
New to the school and unaware of the sign-ups for the cheerleading squad, Gorr missed the football season her ninth grade year.
But when basketball season rolled around, she tried out for Coach Tara Brey and earned a berth on the team.
With her dance background and an infinite amount of energy, Gorr was a natural on the sidelines.
Still, it was a difficult transition.
When I first joined, there were a bunch of senior girls who were really talented, whod been doing this since they were in second grade, Gorr recalled.
It was a little intimidating.
But as Gorr got into things, she became an integral part to the squad, eventually earning a position as captain and helping to make up the dance routines.
Sullivan West makes up all their own routines, she explained. We dont go out looking for other teams routines.
Thats something Gorr said makes them unique. Although Sullivan West is a small school, with a small squad, the girls put their heart and soul into cheering.
While other cheerleading teams show up on the sidelines to boost the opponents, usually putting on just one routine, the Sullivan West girls are out there throughout the game yelling and pepping up both the boys on the field and the folks in the crowd.
Were one of the squads out there for the guys, not for ourselves, she explained. Yeah, I want to look good and have a good time, but without them thered be no us.
Thats what Gorr takes to heart when the Sullivan West girls attend cheerleading competitions, and they have to compete against big schools like Pine Bush, rarely bringing home a prize.
You look at Monroe-Woodbury where you have 200 girls try out for varsity, Gorr said. We have 13.
Cheering for Gorr isnt about winning prizes at some skills competition. Its about the role she plays in the high school dynamic.
Its a unique position in the school, she explained. You go up with the boys and you go down with the boys.
You get your crowd going . . . its a good feeling when you get the fans going.
Gorr said a lot of it is about having fun, and seeing the part she plays in a big win that gets the school pumped.
As a cheerleader, Gorr is the type who makes cookies for the football team, the girl who was voted most spirited by the senior class.
Shes also the kind of kid who gets involved when her school needs her.
When the Sullivan West Board of Education was looking for students to help in the search for a new superintendent, Gorr volunteered to help interview the candidates.
When the district needed input on a new attendance policy, Gorr threw her name in the ring.
And when the Student Council decided to hold a blood drive to help out the community and potentially earn scholarships from the American Red Cross, Gorr signed up to be the chief organizer even though the drive will be held the day before she has to make the long trip to Niagara Falls.
When it comes to things like that, if theyre reaching out to students to get involved, they often reach out to me because Im responsible, she said.
And Im not very shy, Gorr added with a laugh.
She lets her voice be heard as soprano section leader in the Sullivan West chorus and, of course, on the sidelines at any varsity game.
And Gorr still manages to keep her grades up so she could get into a good college (which she has managed with an acceptance letter from Penn State) and stay on the cheerleading squad.
Its hard, but I try not to waste time, Gorr explained. I have a lot of study halls where I do my homework . . . and sometimes Im on the bus on the way to a game doing work.
Its a constant struggle, she added. Sometimes Ill be like, Oh, no, its Wednesday and I have a big test tomorrow and tonight we have a game in ONeill which is two hours away.
But, I love it I dont know anything different, Gorr added. Being a cheerleader is who I am.
Gorrs already been in contact with the cheerleading coach at the Hazelton campus of Penn State. She hopes to spend two years there then transfer to the main campus and cheer on the sidelines of the real games.
But first, she has to get there.
And this weekends competition could mean $10,000 to help pave the way.