The Big Picture

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Are cheerleaders athletes? Is cheerleading a sport?

The University of Maryland offered its opinion on the latter last summer, becoming the first Division I school to sanction cheerleading as a varsity sport, complete with a recruiting budget and a 24-page media guide.

As to the former, just ask Heritage High School athletics director Terri Bradshaw her take on senior cheerleader Chelsea Nuchols.

“She’s probably the best athlete in the school,” said Bradshaw, only half joking.

Nuchols became so famed for her tumbling runs during timeouts at Heritage basketball games the last four years, the school’s public address announcer would announce her name to the crowd. During last month’s district tournament, a bounding, full-layout pass by the Heritage flyer drew an ovation — from fans of both teams!

Nuchols began studying gymnastics at age of 6 at Maryville’s School of Perpetual Motion, where she now works as an instructor. She’s tried her hand at track and field at Heritage and ranks as one of the county’s top high jumpers. Her focus has remained cheerleading, though, and, while she has no current plans to continue in college, she’s proud of her work.

The ovation at the district tournament was welcome affirmation of a job well done.

“It makes me feel really good,” Nuchols said. “It makes me feel all the practice I put into it is worth it. I hope it proves to people that it takes hard work and dedication (to be a cheerleader).”

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