The Push To Be Perfect

Why you have to be an athlete, a diplomat and a scholar to succeed on the squad

The 14 cheerleaders from Henderson Middle School in East Texas are sitting on the grass at Southern Methodist University looking glumly at their sneakers as they're sized up by their "sponsor," who serves as unpaid coach, chaperone and shoulder to cry on. "Stunts, good. Cheer, good. But your spacing was off," says Tangela Washington. Her tone isn't angry, though it might sound harsh to a 13-year-old. The squad is about to face its first evaluation at a three-day summer camp run by the National Cheerleaders Association. "We've got to work like a team," Washington stresses. "You were off in la-la land,...

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