June 27th, 2015 1:16 am

First Posted: 1/27/2013

Cheerleading has come a long way, baby. These days cheerleaders don't just cheer for athletes. They are athletes.

It's much more competitive and much more physical, Pittston Area cheerleading coach Kim Morgan said comparing cheering today to when she was a Pittston Area cheerleader in 2001.

Four to five days a week for two hours Morgan – who started cheerleading at age 1 ½ as a mascot for the Jenkins Township junior football team -- puts 30 Pittston Area cheerleaders through intense routine practices and workouts as she gets them ready to compete in the Universal Cheerleading Association's National High School Cheerleading Championship February 9 - 10 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida

The PA squad was one of just two teams at the Pocono Regional Competition at Kutztown University on December 9 to qualify for the national event.

The PA girls compete in the Large Varsity Non-Tumbling division. The 2 ½ minute routine they are working on includes dancing, jumping, stunting and pyramids with a cheer portion in the middle.

Pyramid building is just like a sport. With positions like main base, secondary base, back spot and flyer it takes teamwork to make a quality and safe pyramid.

Junior Bridget Starinsky – who began cheering with Duryea Wildcats junior football -- is a pyramid back spot. Her job is to help toss the flyer to the top of the pyramid and then spot her for safety. Sometimes it can be a little unnerving. I would never let my flier know I'm scared, Starinsky said. She has to trust you.

In addition to practicing their routine, the girls also workout. They do push ups, sit ups and crunches for their arms and legs and the end of practice and yoga once a week. In the summer they practice every morning - after a 1 ½ mile run. On their own most of them also do machine workouts and weight train at a local gym. Planet fitness is usually exploding with them after practice, Morgan said.

People underestimate cheerleading, Starinsky said. It's a lot of work and it's tiring. On top of it we go out and cheer for the basketball team and the wrestling team. We have fun doing it, but it's stressful at times.

Morgan – a PA eighth grade math teacher – has been the coach for five years. She has Spirit Safety certification and concussion certification. At times, like any coach, she has to be a little tough. This group of girls knows when I am hitting my limit, she said. For the most part they are mature, respectful, responsible and well-behaved.

In addition to working out and practicing their routines, the girls have been busy raising money. They sold candy bars and t-shirts, washed cars, served spaghetti dinners, ran a night of the races, a Charming Charlie's sale and a youth cheer camp and raised 90 percent of the $800 per girl and $24,000 total they need.

Their last scheduled fund raiser was Friday, a happy hour for adults at the Red Mill Tavern. What's left after that will come out of the parents' pockets or from other donors. To help contact Kim Morgan at the Pittston Area Middle school.

Starinsky said she is humbled by all the support. As a team we appreciate that the community supported us. Without our parents, teachers, and administration and everybody who donated even a penny we wouldn't have this privilege.

Once they get to Florida the girls will stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort at Disney World. On Friday they will have free run, with chaperones, of the Disney attractions. Saturday morning they will have one last practice and then more park time. The competition among 400 to 500 teams from around the country is Sunday.

We're getting excited, Starinsky said. On competition day it will be nerve-wracking, but once you get on the mat it's a blast. It will be a lifetime experience and I'm glad I'll get to experience it with my teammates. No matter how we place we'll know we worked as hard as we could and we tried our best.