GREENSBORO, North Carolina — It’s 7 o’clock on a clammy August morning. The air is still. You can see rolling hills, celebrated buildings, anew erected amenities and acreage of landscaped spaces. At the bigger historically atramentous academy or university (HBCU) in the nation, North Carolina Agricultural and Abstruse State University, all credibility bisect at the new Deese Clock Tower. The alone sounds alveolate throughout Aggieland are game-day chants from the Aggie Gold Bandage cheerleaders. But this is not aloof your approved preseason convenance — it’s Camp Week. And it’s the aftermost day.
It’s been a journey. These are the adolescent women, rookies and veterans, who went through the backbreaking action of authoritative the squad. In the week’s alpha meeting, co-head drillmaster Adjoa Botwe-Rankin, adorned in Aggie colors, told the 2018-19 Gold Squad: “During Camp Week, we’ll booty your keys and your phones,” she said. “So let your moms apperceive … you are safe, and you will be able-bodied taken affliction of.”
The Gold Bandage cheerleaders are North Carolina A&T’s arch campus team. They are accepted to accomplish avant-garde levels of aerobatics and stunting, and they accept a acrimonious alternative process. During the bounce ’18 tryouts, 80-plus abeyant aggregation associates were whittled bottomward to the arch 21 athletes to anatomy the 2018-19 Gold Squad.
The bandage is generally appropriate to biking and to accomplish appropriate campus and association appearances. Like best cheerleading programs about the world, the aboriginal Aggie cheerleaders were men. Over the years, the aggregation has been both babe and all-girl, with tryouts absorption beneath on gender than skill. In the accomplished few years, however, the Gold Bandage has been bedeviled by Atramentous Girl Magic.
And now, a coach’s articulation shouts: “Camp Anniversary is aloft us! The best backbreaking anniversary of the year. If it’s raining, we will break out there — alike if it’s a monsoon!”
5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 … let’s go, Aggies!
When aurora break on the aboriginal day of Camp Anniversary and the sun aeon over what best still alarm Aggie Amphitheater (though it’s now branded BB&T Stadium), choir are chanting in unison. Over and over, on the track, the Gold Bandage goes over game-day achievement drills. They lift and basic and lift and prep. As diaphoresis trickles bottomward foreheads, anniversary addendum is flawless. The top girls alluringly rise, as they are advance into the air by their bases, and bend their bodies into beautifully appointed positions.
The North Carolina A&T cheerleading aggregation practices their way through Camp Anniversary on campus.
Eamon Queeney for The Undefeated
The aggregation rotates through four achievement groups, adjusting for the assured variances. The apprenticeship agents provides direction. “Other bodies lift weights,” said drillmaster Wenalyn S. Bell Glenn, “we lift people.” And aback bodies are lifted, actuality happens. It’s still aboriginal in the day aback one of the athletes is off to the ancillary with an able-bodied trainer, nursing an credible abate strain.
As the bandage break to grab baptize and stretch, Botwe-Rankin offers administering on how to appropriately beating aching wrists. Some women sit in ameliorative splits, while others angle and amplitude their shoulders. A makeshift dispensary has formed, as there are now three athletes out briefly because of pain.
“This wouldn’t be cheerleading if things didn’t appear this way,” says Botwe-Rankin. “People accept preconceptions about cheerleading, but there’s a lot that goes into it.”
Even anew appointed aggregation able-bodied trainer Jaime Payamps is surprised. “Before alive with the Aggies, I didn’t anticipate that cheerleading was a sport,” he said. “But afterwards what I’ve apparent from these adolescent ladies, it actually is.” Studies accept apparent that cheerleading has become the best alarming action for changeable athletes and carries a greater accident for adverse abrasion than alike football does for adolescent men. Injuries ambit in severity from abate and wrist sprains to the arch injuries and concussions associated with the risks of stunting. Stunting is a accomplishment set in which teams body pyramids and bung their mates in the air advance of 10 anxiety as they accomplish a array of acrobatics.
“We do all of this and we don’t alike accept a ability to do it in,” said Glenn. “Nobody knows what we go through, or [even] breadth we’re practicing, in adjustment to accomplish the cast attending good.”
Aggies get up / ’Cause we don’t booty no blend / We’re gonna bedrock / You / ’Cause we agitate the best / Aggie … Pride!
Those who are able resume practice. The coaches and the aggregation pride themselves on a attenuated affairs that combines elements of both the HBCU barge ’n’ agitate actualization and traditional, added abstruse cheerleading models. Barge ’n’ agitate cheerleading originated in the backward 1970s amid African-American cheerleaders in the Carolina and Virginia regions.
This actualization incorporates accepted ball and footfall moves and actualization added adroit flair. Barge ’n’ agitate forgoes a accepted active angel for a added d, in-your-face actualization abounding with sass. Acceptable cheerleading focuses primarily on the abstruse aspect of aciculate motions and heavily actualization stunting and aerobatics sequences.
“When bodies anticipate of HBCU cheerleading,” said Botwe-Rankin, “all they anticipate about is barge ’n’ shake. Actuality at A&T … we appetite to bottle the history [of] A&T cheerleading.”
Meanwhile: “If you’re gonna die, die breadth we can see you!”
Glenn is shouting as the aggregation gets in position to run Aggie Stadium. The sounds of Snoop Dogg and Lil Jon bang as the Gold Bandage makes its way from one end of the amphitheater to addition and back. Glenn jogs alongside the adolescent women, accouterment as abundant banana abatement as motivation.
Members of the football aggregation adequate canyon the squad, analytical in admiration. Up the bleachers afresh bottomward the Gold Bandage associates go, pacing themselves as they bisect Aggie.
The aggregation can’t accomplishment the run until the aftermost actuality makes it in. No water, no breaks, no annihilation until every aftermost bandage affiliate finishes her laps. One of the adolescent women, with aureate locks deeply anchored abroad from her face, lags behind. As the bandage continues at a abiding trot, she leans over a balustrade and collects her breath.
“Come on, Talia! Advance through! You got it!”
There will be no one larboard abaft amid this deeply affiliate team, atomic of all their co-captain.
“Jog it in, Talia!”
And the Gold Bandage applauds as Talia circuit her final ambit about their home base.
There’s no blow for the weary as the sun, now aerial in the sky, beats bottomward on the bandage as the Ying Yang Twins, arena in the background, animate the bandage to “shake it like a alkali shaker.” Now there are lunges, squats, pushups and more. “You guys are a cheerleading team, right?” trainer Darlene Mitchell shouts. “You all charge to be in accompany with one another!” They assignment their way through assignment afterwards drill, absorption on backbone and advantageous aing absorption to synchronization.
The aggregation practices their way through added Camp Week.
“A lot about Aggie cheer,” said co-captain Kenya Merritt, “and about growing itself is about demography criticism the appropriate way. … It’s a abject experience.”
When they’re assuredly dismissed, best of the cheerleaders lie on the track, wiped. This anniversary of convenance is advised to advance the bandage above alone limits. As the Aggies assuredly retire for the day, anxiously accessible to displace and do it all over afresh tomorrow, bandage affiliate Talia Thomas adds, “We’re all activity through this together. You’re not the alone one struggling. Lean on your teammates.”
But now Camp Anniversary is about over. It’s the aftermost day, and the Gold Bandage has a connected run advancing up.
Rock and cycle / Bleed that Dejected and Gold / Bedrock and cycle / Bleed that Dejected and Gold.
Upon abrogation BB&T Stadium, the cheerleaders accomplish their way bottomward Benbow Road, casual Craig Hall, a centermost of all-around bread-and-er studies. Afresh they access Proctor Hall — the Academy of Apprenticeship is an architectural gem, congenital in 2011, and is generally referred to as the face of the university. The girls in connected bright socks and analogous gray shorts and sports bras carol as they jog in a line. Their coaches and aggregation documentarians chase in cars and golf carts.
The Gold Bandage includes athletes who barrage from a array of ball and movement and acclamation backgrounds. Some, like Thomas, are accomplished gymnasts. Others, such as adept associates Kayla Womble and Ndi Patterson, are All-Star cheerleaders. Some adolescent women accept alone anytime had barge ’n’ agitate (also accepted as nontraditional) cheerleading training, while others accept alternate alone in acceptable amusement and academy acclamation programs.
“The affairs is growing and alteration for the better,” captain Brianna Tyler said earlier. “I’ve been on the Gold Bandage for four years, and this is way altered from what I did apprentice year. We accept to assurance the coaches … and the process.”
The Gold Bandage makes a larboard assimilate Market Street and comes aloft the administering building. It’s alleged afterwards Lewis C. Dowdy, the sixth admiral and aboriginal adjudicator of North Carolina A&T — he spearheaded architecture of Aggie Stadium. The aggregation afresh makes what will be its aftermost bout accomplished the old engineering building. It was access on Oct. 29 to accomplish way for a new engineering and analysis complex.
North Carolina A&T is historically accepted for its assembly of agriculturalists and engineers, authoritative this access decidedly significant. The adolescent women on the aggregation represent a array of bookish programs, but the greatest allotment is concentrated in engineering and education. The leveling of the old engineering architecture creates a amplitude for connected advance and innovation, a accident that is not absent on the team. “At the end of the day,” Thomas said later, “we are abrogation a legacy. … We won’t be actuality forever.”
When the Gold Bandage cheerleaders annular the bend of Dudley Street, they’re a the bluff of their run: the cairn commemorating the Greensboro Four. In February 1960, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, Jibreel Khazan (then Ezell Blair Jr.) and Joe McNeil, four North Carolina A&T freshmen, were balked with their adventures of actuality denied account at Woolworth’s. Famously, influentially and successfully, they sat at the store’s cafeteria adverse calmly allurement to be served. They fabricated and afflicted history.
The aggregation switches its accent and marches through an breadth alleged The Strip, the epicenter of campus life. Bodies watch as the women accomplish their final turns. Diaphoresis pours bottomward faces and limbs. Expressions are adulterated by ache and fatigue as they action their way through burnout aback to Aggie Stadium.
But with their abject in sight, there’s a renewed access of energy. North Carolina A&T, and aggregate it stands for — this is why the Gold Bandage stomps and all-overs and shouts.
Lawn sprinklers bang to activity as if affable the aggregation home.
Brianna Tyler, 21, of Hampton, Virginia, is the chief captain of the North Carolina A&T acclamation squad. She is a allure above and is currently applying to pharmacy schools. Tyler has been on the Gold Bandage all four years of school. “It’s been my activity back college,” she said. “I eat, beddy-bye and breathe cheer. I’ve acquired a family; the coaches are like additional moms.”
Eamon Queeney for The Undefeated
Aggie Pride is added than aloof a byword or amusing media hashtag. To accept Aggie Pride is to accept in the precepts categorical by the university’s founders, it is to be in tune with the university’s heritage, it is to be invested in its connected advancement, and it is to backpack all of that with you far afterwards graduation. Aggie Pride has now paved the way for the added avant-garde mantra #AggiesDo.
In the locker allowance of the Joseph and Kathleen Bryan Fitness and Wellness Center, Glenn, an A&T graduate, reviews the expectations abundant in the women’s contracts. Technically, the Aggie Gold Bandage is sponsored by the North Carolina A&T Athletics Department, which covers best of their participatory costs. Upholding the categorical standards are non-negotiable.
“You charge be a adumbrative of the university in appearance, absolute conduct and effort,” said Glenn. She announces that the bandage has been arrive to accomplish in Jamestown, an flush suburb of Greensboro. “People don’t alarm in and say, ‘Send the football team.’ They appetite the cheerleaders, or the band. That’s a huge deal! Be alert of who you are representing.”
The alfresco accomplishments accouterment to black as storm clouds move in. Thunder can be heard, but the women in the locker allowance are unfazed. A accurate moment that the Gold Bandage has been cat-and-mouse for has arrived: The team’s new Nike tote accoutrements are to be distributed. Nike has been in affiliation with the Mid-Eastern Able-bodied Conference (MEAC) back 2005 and, as of September 2016, broadcast the affiliation to become the official cast of the MEAC. Glenn proudly marches beyond the breadth of the allowance clay the tote for all to see. The Aggie Gold Bandage additionally gets set for compatible distribution.
Anticipation mounts. The rookies are afar from the veterans as anniversary adolescent woman is directed to a locker with her name on it. Soon, there are gasps and oohs and aahs.
The N.C. A&T cheerleading aggregation performs alfresco of BB&T Amphitheater during Fan Fest on campus in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Aug. 18. Consisting of a Gold Bandage and Dejected Squad, the N.C. A&T acclamation affairs goes through an acute agenda of training, practices and d appearances from July through April. Eamon Queeney for The Undefeated
Eamon Queeney for The Undefeated
Each locker has been neatly abounding with absolute Aggie accouterments and game-day essentials. The cheerleaders cull out anniversary of their spirit items. Some anxiously aish their spirit items, while others added impatiently chargeless accessory from its packaging. There are bows in Aggie dejected and gold, tumblers, bullhorns, catchbasin tops, baptize bottles, shoes … then:
This is the complete fabricated aback a affiliate of the Gold Bandage catches a glimpse of one of several uniforms. As coaches administer the ’fits, the locker allowance is adapted into one ample agreement party.
They are a team, but the alone strengths of the Gold Bandage are unmistakable. Anniversary amateur is able-bodied and toned. Amateur are chiseled. The girls beam and allotment moments of amore while giving anniversary added adulation on beard and nails as they bandy compatible pieces amid themselves until altogether adequate and ambrosial allocation is achieved.
The alone break that rivals the anniversary five-day anniversary Aggiefest is The Greatest Accession on Earth, aka GHOE, accident this year on Saturday. It’s Aggies football vs. Norfolk State.
But accession at North Carolina A&T is added than your boilerplate football d brindled with some pageantry. The absolute anniversary is a assembly from alpha to finish. Over the years, it has featured artists such as Babyface, Cardi B and Kirk Franklin. It’s an accident befitting the bigger HBCU in the nation, with a football aggregation that until Sept. 22 could acclaim a acceptable bandage that spanned 665 canicule over several seasons.
The N.C. A&T cheerleading aggregation includes a Gold Bandage and Dejected Squad. The acclamation affairs goes through an acute agenda of training, practices and d appearances from July through April.
Eamon Queeney for The Undefeated
For the Gold Squad, it’s an backbreaking anniversary of appearances and performances that crave every ounce of dust they acquire — abnormally as they’re acclimation accurate bookish requirements as well. They are spirit leaders answerable with animating the crowds and ensuring that Aggie Pride resonates throughout the stadium.
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And what a assemblage they are. The Gold Squad’s training and convenance accredit them to stomp, shake, canal with the band, advertise their acrobatic accomplishment and recite accustomed chants as assemblage accompany in the celebration. If Aggie Pride can be summed up in one week, this is what it looks like. And these adolescent women are the face of it.
When the Gold Bandage cheerleaders fabricated the final lap of their campus run and sprinkler baptize showered them with coolness, they knew the purpose of the run was not to apprentice the campus highways and byways but to accommodate perspective. Actuality a affiliate of the Gold Bandage has able them for amateur and contest — and for life. As Botwe-Rankin says, “Go advanced and … let those tears flow. The day is gonna end, and tomorrow is gonna come.”
Go … Aggies!
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