Raleigh cheer teams crash party at Nationals

A familiar bass line begins playing over the arena P.A. system. The 24 girls from the Raleigh Elite Diamonds gym recognize it immediately and jump to their feet.

Nearly 500 girls are packed together, seated quietly on the stage at the Dallas Convention Center awaiting the results of the U.S. Finals that will crown the national champions of youth cheer and dance. Pop music has been playing over the speakers while the judges tabulate the scores, and the latest song urges “all the shawtys in the club” to get up.

So the two dozen girls from Raleigh stand and begin to do The Wobble.

At first they were alone. “The other teams were doing this,” one girl said later, snapping her fingers and moving her arms to the beat. “It was like they didn’t even know there WAS a dance.”

The girls from Raleigh set about changing that. They quickly teach the teams sitting beside them the steps, and it spreads virally across the stage as team after team joins the Elite Diamonds. A hundred yards away and up one level, most of the Raleigh team’s parents are doing the same thing.

“North Carolina knows how to wobble!” shouts someone from the California team’s parents section nearby.

It’s not the first time this weekend that the Raleigh Elite Diamonds (R.E.D. for short) have breathed new life into the national cheer competition. By one back-of-the-envelope tabulation, the average team in the competition had 14 members — 12 of them white, more than half of them blonde.

All 24 members of the two R.E.D. squads to qualify for nationals are black and don’t fit the classic image of a pixie sprite cheerleader.

“They have curves,” one parent explained. The team orders specially made uniforms, to fit the body types that traditional cheer uniforms don’t accommodate.

Many were cut during high school or middle school cheer tryouts because they didn’t fit the classic image of a cheerleader, often gently guided toward track or some other sport it was thought would better suit them. If the girls on the team didn’t experience that rejection personally, there’s a good chance their moms sitting in the section above did.

“They had me play basketball,” one mom said. “Because I have thighs.”

R.E.D. was formed, in large part, to give those types of girls a home where they could cheer, and that unlocked a powerful secret: They succeed on the national level not in spite of their body type but because of it (not to mention months of hard work on technique and choreography). Every girl on the team, from the largest to the smallest, participates in aerials during the routines, leaping and soaring, then landing in unison and slapping the mat for emphasis, like a pro wrestler selling a bump.

The Elite Diamonds routines are also filled with the attitude that only comes from a group of athletes knowing they’re crashing the party. The other teams in the competition have names like Starlight, Pink Flames, Tiny Princesses and Rock Stars.

The Raleigh teams are named Rage and Reckless. The group of parents that made the trip all wear matching T-shirts that say “RECKLESS RAGE” in big letters.

They enter the arena seating bowl in a group, emerging from a tunnel at stage left, then walking all the way around the concourse to their section to the right of center stage. They clap politely as team after team performs.

When another all-black team — Sienna Reign from Missouri City, Texas, whose web page greets visitors with a quote from Maya Angelou — performs, the R.E.D. parents leap to their feet and shout encouragement.

“I’m as nervous as I am for our own kids,” says one parent.

Two and a half hours into the competition, Reckless runs onto the stage. The Raleigh parents erupt with chants of “R.E.D. R.E.D.”

Reckless leaves little doubt about the outcome, dazzling the crowd with unison aerials and spectacular lifts, all met with raucous shouts from the extremely vocal parents section. By the end of the routine, the California section is also cheering for Reckless as they take the national championship for their age group as well as the Overall Level championship.

“You have ANOTHER team?” ask members of the California delegation as Rage follows their teammates on stage. The Raleigh parents greet them with chants of “R.E.D.” again and don’t sit down until the last lift is completed and the girls hit their finish.

Rage’s performance is good for third in the nation at their age and skill level. There are tears and a disappointed photo with the third-place banner that would do McKayla Maroney proud.  Eventually, however, their accomplishment will sink in: Twenty-four African American girls that school cheer teams didn’t have a spot for traveled to Texas and returned home with three national banners for their gym.

It’s an accomplishment that will make just about anyone stand up and Wobble.

Shawn Krest’s daughter is a cheerleader on Raleigh Elite Diamonds.