DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A Surry County native recently helped the cheer squad at N.C. State University bring home a national title.
Kara Collins, a North Surry 2012 graduate, and her Wolfpack squad brought home the top prize in the small-squad category at the NCA and NDA Collegiate Championship held in Florida this month.
A club team from N.C. State also finished second in the dance competition.
Because NCSU is a large university (about 35,000 students enrolled), the cheer squads compete at the highest 1A level.
N.C. State has a large cheerleading squad, which gets broken down into a large coed squad and a small coed squad, explained Collins.
In the large group, the team can have as many as 12 men compete; the small squad has 20 people, but only four can be men. This puts more pressure on the women to build their strength and be able to toss and catch teammates.
Collins said N.C. State has a strong tradition in the large coed championships, having won four titles: 1986, 1990, 1991 and 2001.
The university didn’t have a small coed squad until seven years ago, but that squad quickly began to improve and had been inching toward a national title the past few years, she said.
This year, the group decided to make a power squad. The small coed group in Florida was made up of the best performers from both its large team and its small team.
This championship gives N.C. State five titles, the most of any sport at the university.
Competitive cheer is a recognized sport by the school and gets funding, she added.
The dance team that finished second at the competition is made up of people from the university, but it is a club team, not recognized by NCSU, and the members had to raise money themselves to pay for the trip.
As a senior, Collins, 21, said she took on a bigger role with the team this year. The team has two captains, then a few team leaders, and Collins was named a team leader.
“We had a hand in creating our routine; we had a say in what we wanted in it,” Collins said. The coaches would ask the captains and team leaders their opinions, and she gave input.
The senior said she has been a very hands-on mentor, working side by side with the younger cheerleaders and staying patient. She has tried to be helpful both on and off the mat.
“These people are family now,” she said. With some of her past teammates now graduated, she said she’s taken part in a few weddings.
Asked about taking on more responsibility, she said, “I enjoy it way better actually. We had a goal we were working toward. Every year we wanted to be a national champion.”
And they put in the work, she pointed out. The squad practiced from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, then took part in football and basketball games.
In high school, cheering was something girls did for fun, but with a competitive cheer squad, the girls put in a lot of time and effort, and even make sacrifices.
Collins said she has had several shin issues and two concussions from being thrown high in the air. But the joy of nailing a routine has made it all worthwhile.
Away from sports, the cheer squad has been a part of the community with things like corporate appearances and charity events. Then she has to balance that with classes and homework.
Collins said she is a communications major, with a concentration in media and a minor in art and design.
No matter what field a person goes into, he or she needs to be able to interact well with others, she believes. And her studies have prepared her nicely.
Collins will graduate this June and will have an internship in the human resources department of a large company, which she is keeping confidential for now.
Whatever the future holds for her, Collins believes cheer has given her traits she needs, like toughness.
“Being mentally tough has been the biggest thing,” she said. “Until we all collectively came together and became determined to do this, it wasn’t going to happen.”
Because of all the hours of practice, Collins said she stepped onto the stage in Florida brimming with confidence.
Sure, she felt anxious, but it came out as boundless energy.
“When we walked off the floor, I felt like I could do it all again.”
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.