Two Benton High School students, Jacie Gregory and Jenny Belz, will be cheering for the Arkansas Razorbacks next year.
However, unlike most Fayetteville freshman they will be doing so on the sidelines because both were named earlier this month to the 2011 cheerleading squad.
Belz, 17, the daughter of Dan and Mary Belz, and Gregory, 17, the daughter of Jim and Jana Gregory, will join former Panthers cheerleader Carly Glover, 19, who graduated from Benton in 2010.
Benton cheerleading coach Karen Hilborn said Gregory and Belz are “both outstanding cheerleaders who have amazing skills and a true love for the sport.”
“I have had the privilege of not only coaching them both for three years, but to have also had them in the classroom,” she said. “Both are top-notch students who take a lot of pride in their academics, as well as their athletic activities.”
Hilborn said, “It is pretty amazing that we will have three former Benton cheerleaders on the sidelines next year cheering for the Hogs. Benton should be very proud.”
Belz began cheering at 3 years old and has “participated regularly” for about 10 years, she said.
“As a kid, I always looked up to the cheerleaders and wanted to be like them. It is really exciting that I get to live out my dream,” she said.
“There are so many different aspects of cheerleading. I realize that cheering for the University of Arkansas will take up a ton of time, but the feeling that it gives back makes it all worth it.”
Gregory, who plans to major in public relations and advertisement, competed in gymnastics before starting cheering about eight years ago.
She said, “I love cheering. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something special. I love being part of a team and working hard together toward a goal with my friends.
“It is rewarding when you work so hard for something and it pays off when you win the competition, or when you get out in front of a crowd at a game.”
Both will receive a scholarship that starts at $850 per semester and increases until graduation. Belz will cheer at all Fayetteville and Little Rock football games, as well as all home and postseason women’s basketball games and select men’s basketball games. Gregory also will cheer all home football games, as well as women’s basketball and volleyball games.
Glover, a biology major and daughter of Brad and Kim Glover, cheers for the Razorbacks football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and tennis teams. Giving advice to Belz and Gregory, she said, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”
She said, “When you greet them (fans) wearing a Razorback uniform, accompanied by a big welcoming smile, you’ll be hard to forget.”
Following in the footsteps of their older sisters, cheerleading is a sort of family tradition in the Gregory and Belz households; Christy Belz will be starting her third year as a cheerleader for the University of Central Arkansas, where Jill Gregory cheered on the Bears for four years.
Hilborn said, “It would be hard for me to express how awesome it has been to have them on the squad for the past three years. It is really a bittersweet time for me because, not only have I coached these girls for three years, but also coached both of their big sisters for three years, so I have had a Gregory or Belz girl on my squad since 2003 with the exception of one year.”
In order to make the Razorbacks squad, both Belz and Gregory had to pass a rigorous tryout, including “video cuts” and campus tryouts that lasted three days, Belz said.
Gregory said, “It was intense and stressful, but I had so much fun meeting all the new people.”
One week later, both were named to next year’s squad and cheering at their first Razorbacks game, the spring Red-and-White scrimmage, which was televised on ESPN.
Belz said, “That was really exciting. It is something I will never forget.”
Belz, who also serves on the Mayor’s Youth Council, plans to major in physical therapy and go through sorority rush week, but plans to be “very focused on grades because school comes first.”
“In order to stay on the squad, you have to keep your grades up,” she said.
Hilborn said, “If you watch Jenny at games, you can see the enthusiasm on her face at all times. I have had many people over the past few years tell me that they love watching Jenny cheer because she seems to love it so much.”
Gregory also will go through rush, as well as participate in the campus Christian ministry.
“For Jacie, it is on the compeition floor that her love for the sport is most apparent,” Hilborn said. “She works so hard in practice to be the very best so that, when we compete, she can put all of her energy into the performance for a top score.”
Gregory said she attends Razorbacks games “as often as I can, and I love them!”
“But my favorite Razorback memories aren’t at the games, they are at the family football cookouts,” she said. “I love sitting down with my family eating a good hamburger and getting way too excited when we score a touchdown.”
Hilborn said, “Both girls have been a true pleasure to work with and will be greatly missed next year, but I am so proud of them and excited for them as they begin their next phase of life and cheerleading.”
For Belz, the saddest part about leaving Benton High School is “leaving my team.”
“Cheerleading was the highlight of my high school career,” she said. “We worked hard and played hard. But now, I’m moving on to a different team and it’s a good transition to make.”
For Gregory, being without her closest friends every day is the saddest part of leaving Benton, she said.
Belz said, “I’ve always wanted to wear a Razorback uniform, and I am so honored that I get to cheer them on from the sidelines. It is the best seat in the whole stadium.”
Gregory said, “The University of Arkansas is my home school. I’ve grown up loving the Razorbacks and am looking forward to the Razorback football season. It has been nothing short of a dream come true to have the honor of being a part of the Razorback tradition.”