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Cheerleading competition hosts more than 500

Apr. 14, 2013 @ 12:25 AM

HUNTINGTON -- More than 500 cheerleaders brought their spirit and physical dexterity to the competition mat Saturday afternoon during the Mardi Gras Cheerleading event at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

It was the first time a Mardi Gras Spirit Events competition took place in West Virginia, said Jeannine Sentilles, who owns the event company, which is based in New Orleans.

The event boasted more than 20 competition categories for individual cheerleaders, stunt groups and full squads.

Sentilles said the competition sets a great atmosphere for both the competitors and those who come out to support them.

"Generally, I think there's too much stress on families now between the economy and what it's like to have the pressure of parents having one job or no job at all," said Sentilles. "There needs to be a way for these kids and their families to come out and spend a day to vent and have fun together."

There is no shortage of opportunities for fun at the event, which, like its title suggests, is filled with Mardi Gras-influenced aspects, most notably a Mari Gras-style parade -- complete with Cajun music -- which includes all competitors, coaches and parents.

"It's one of those things where, here's a chance for some of these kids to get a taste of a culture they might not have experienced before," said Sentilles. "If you can't come to Mardi Gras, we can bring the best parts of Mardi Gras to you."

Laiken Johnson is a former competitive cheerleader, and she traveled from Mercer County, W.Va., to support her former team, Princeton, W.Va.-based Dynasty Athletics.

She said competitive cheerleading provides a good blend of fun and hard work for participants.

"It really gives you a lot of experience with the ideas of winning and losing and how to do both of them with grace," said Johnson. "There also is a lot of team building and communication that happens when you are learning routines and competing together. Of course, there also is plenty of opportunities to make good memories."