Sometimes the difficult part of cheerleading is in being cheerful.

Sometimes the difficult part of cheerleading is in being cheerful.

Audrey Purpura, a senior with the Watkins Memorial High School varsity competition cheer team, said such difficulty must be overcome, though, for a squad to succeed.

"There's always going to be times when you mess up, or maybe you just don't feel good," Purpura said. "You have to keep going. If you don't, it'll show all over your face."

That could be a costly mistake when performing before a panel of judges because showmanship is taken into account on the scoring sheet. Points also are awarded on how teams handle other aspects of their two-and-a-half-minute routines, including the complicated dance steps and tumbles.

"I don't think there's any other sport where an athlete has to smile," said Tracey Hare, who has been coaching the Warriors for nearly 20 years. "We're constantly telling the girls, 'OK, I know it's been a long day and you might be tired, but you've got to get out there and do your best and do it with a beautiful smile on your face.'"

Regardless of whether cheerleading is considered a sport, endurance and athleticism are key elements of the art, according to Purpura, who aims to continue cheering next year while attending the University of Cincinnati.

"I know I stay busy with it," she said. "It's basically like two separate sports, really. We have season cheerleading for basketball and football, and we have a season for competition. So we'll have three-hour practices (for competition) on Wednesday and Saturday, and then on Monday we tumble for an hour.

"We've usually been having basketball games twice a week (on Tuesdays and Fridays), too, so the only day I might have off is Thursday because most of the (competition events) are (held) on Sunday."

Hare's group of 13 competition cheerleaders might be helping to lift the collective spirit of the student body at Watkins Memorial, given that thus far it's been a tough school year athletically. That's especially true in the sports where cheerleading is prominent. The football team finished 4-6, and the boys basketball team ended its season 1-20.

The cheer team on Feb. 15 at Dublin Jerome, however, captured its first OCC-Capital Division title since 2000, improving on last year's runner-up finish to traditional-power Big Walnut. The next event is the state competition meet today at Hilliard Davidson.

"We've qualified for state every year I've been here, but this will be the first time I think we can really place high," Purpura said. "The kids at school, they've really taken notice of us. We're showing you can still do well in sports here."

The Warriors placed second for their opening performance at the AmeriCheer Winter Wonderland Competition on Jan. 10 in Sandusky, and they fared well in other AmeriCheer Series events held prior to the OCC championship meet. They also were runner-up in their division Feb. 1 at the Ohio State Cheerleading Competition, finishing seventh among 48 schools overall.

The team's other seniors are Tori Evans and Jennie Phillips. The other varsity members are Kacy Blankenship, Christina Christian, Taylor Cook, Skylar Corum, Brooklyn Galik, Ashley Landolfo, Alexis Linssen, Mackenzie Linssen, Chandler Ruth and Valerie Schreiber. Team assistants are Jessica Hart and Tiffany Yost, who once were cheerleaders on Hare's squad.

The Ohio Association of Secondary School Administration, which also oversees activities such as student council, governs competition cheer. The Warriors fundraise during summer months to help offset the costs, which could range from $15 per cheerleader per event up to $100 for elite events.

"It's so worth it because I think the girls really get a lot from this," said Hare, who has another 15 or so girls in the cheer program. "The costs are unfortunate, and we pay everywhere we go except OCCs. The girls work to help raise the money themselves, though, and that's great.

"It's not always easy, and some people might not even consider cheerleading to be a real sport," Hare said, "but our girls just keep at it and try to remember the team motto: 'Warrior Athletics With A Smile.'"