Stuntin’ at Woodward Copper cheerleading camp (cheer video) |

Stuntin’ at Woodward Copper cheerleading camp (cheer video)

Phil LIndeman

Summer of cheer

Interested in cheerleading camp at Woodward Copper? There’s plenty of summer left with five weeks of camp between now and Aug. 5. To sign up or learn more, see

By 10 a.m., the cheerleaders were already making the skateboarders and BMXers and scooter riders stop in their tracks.

On a pitch-perfect June day at the Woodward Copper Barn — a super-sized playground for extreme sport athletes-in-the-making at Copper Mountain, filled with foam pits, skate ramps, trampolines and spring floors — nearly 40 girls from across the country took over the main exercise floor and nearby trampoline pit for morning warm-ups. This week’s group was the biggest of the summer season, and even though the group of girls between 8 and 16 years old had only been at camp together for about two days, they already knew the routine: split into two groups for 15 minutes of trampoline practice, then group stretching, then snake “sprints” with dynamic footwork like crisscrosses, crabwalks and backpedals.

After the girls’ blood was pumping, a crew of instructors led by Breckenridge local Emily Terrell gathered everyone together for the first official cheer training of the day: simple lifts with groups of four girls, each split between three bases of around the same height and one “flier” (aka the girl who gets lifted and tossed upwards of 10 feet off the ground during a routine).

“Remember: smiles and big arms,” one of Terrell’s assistants tells the pods of four, all facing the skate bowl where a few young skateboarders and BMX riders were taking mellow laps.

“One, two, three and…,” the assistant began counting, and then, as if connected by invisible marionette strings, the pods of four lifted their fliers as the assistant kept counting. The lift came in several stages — lift the flier to chest level, then boost to overhead, then hold with smiles, and then back to chest level — and just about every group got the lift on their first try.

Some wobbled, others wavered, but no one fell and everyone returned to the ground with wide smiles — not to mention the curious attention of the young boys on skateboards, bikes and scooters. After a few seconds of giddy whispers and laughter, the cheer campers returned to formation, ready for the next set of instructions.

This is how “stunting” gets started: first come simple lifts, followed by tosses, inverts, twists, formations — you name it and this is where it begins for cheerleaders at every level, from middle school to independent competitive teams.

“It’s unique that we get these girls up here to stunt with girls they have never been with before,” said Terrell, cheer outreach coordinator for Woodward, while her assistant counted the group through another lift. “It’s a lot about getting people comfortable with their stunt groups, seeing if the chemistry is there with fliers and bases. These cheerleaders are coming from different gyms that do things slightly differently, but here they know that we’re all here to learn.”

More than cheer camp

Cheerleading might seem like an odd fit for Woodward, Terrell admits, but it makes plenty of sense. The Barn is home to trampolines and spring floors — the same training tools found in high-level gyms — and competitive cheerleaders across the nation often spend summers training for the upcoming high school or club seasons.

Like dancing or gymnastics, though, cheerleading sometimes get a bad rap for being too intense, especially for young girls simply trying to learn the basics. That’s where Terrell and her instructors come into play: through a more laid-back approach to a demanding sport, they hope girls leave a week at Woodward cheer camp realizing just how much fun cheerleading can be.

“A successful week for me and the girls is that they have fun,” Terrell said. “These cheerleaders can be really hard on themselves, so I tell them this isn’t tryouts or a competition. This is summer camp.”

While that distinction seems too tiny to notice, the girls absolutely appreciate the vibe of a Woodward cheer camp. Ashlynn Ackfelb of St. Paul, Minnesota is spending three weeks at Woodward this summer. She spent her first week learning and will spend her final two weeks as a junior counselor. The 16-year-old had never been to Woodward before, but she fell in love her first night.

“I get the chance to work with all these amazing counselors and kids,” said Ackfelb, who remembers how when she was sick one night, a group of counselors brought food and get-well wishes to her room in the Woodward dorms. “It’s such a relaxing environment, where you just get to do you.”

Barn to snow and back

Like Ackfelb, guest instructor Emanuel Williams had never been to Woodward or even Colorado before joining Terrell for a week. The two knew each other from the cheerleading world in St. Louis, where Williams still lives and coaches with Pride of Illinois, and independent cheer gym.

“I love how you have different areas for different sports,” said Williams, motioning around to the skate ramps and bowls and foam pits. “The cheerleaders can see kids their age that are just as passionate about their sports.”

And it doesn’t stop with simply seeing skateboarders, skiers and snowboarders. As a summer camp, everyone at Woodward gets to interact with everyone else, no matter what sport they’re training that week. In fact, Terrell even introduced a cheer-specific “Game of Gnar,” where girls are encouraged to meet other campers and earn points by playing games, making conversation and more.

“I always tells parents when they ask about Woodward that we’re not just instruction, instruction, instruction,” Terrell said. “Don’t get me wrong — if kids are capable of it, I will push them — but I love that Woodward is always camper first.”

Cheerleading is one of the only sports at Woodward that’s solely indoors — the girls practice and perform a routine for the end-of-session talent show, and they always inspire a few skateboarders to learn tumbling — but that doesn’t mean they never see the sunshine. Williams’ favorite part of the weekend was a Tuesday barbecue with the ski and snowboard campers on the snow at the on-mountain terrain park, with views of the Tenmile Range to one side and awesome scenes of jumping, jibbing and mid-June skiing right in front of them.

“I think this is the best summer camp I’ve ever been to, with the nature and the mountains and all of that,” Williams said. “It is so different from what I’ve done before.”

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