By Nick Talbot

Killeen Daily Herald

Two years ago, Courtney Pate had given up competitive cheer.

She wanted to focus on pole vaulting. Pate thought that was her ticket to a college scholarship and was training with Jack Chapman at Texas Elite Pole Vault in Killeen.

"Sophomore year, my mind was set on vaulting in college," Pate said. "I made it to regionals and placed fourth and had letters in the mail for vaulting."

But, she missed tumbling too much.

She got a taste of the cheer bug again doing the homecoming routine for Belton.

"It just changed my mind and let me know I missed it," Pate said. "When I started pole vaulting competitively, I had to quit competitive cheer and I took a year away from it. And the fall of my junior year, I just changed my mind. I just missed everything cheer was about."

So, she went back and is now moving forward with it, signing a college letter of intent with Baylor.

It isn't competitive cheer she will be competing at for the Lady Bears, though.

It is acrobatics and tumbling, a hybrid sport that is trying to gain status across the country and throughout the NCAA.

The sport is currently carried at eight universities and colleges.

"The way I look at it, is that it's cheer with the technicality of gymnastics," Pate said.

However, there are no pompons, sidelines, megaphones or even really any cheers. Acrobatics and tumbling is comprised of different events that feature both stunting (pyramid building) seen in competitive cheer and tumbling passes often seen in gymnastics floor exercises.

"I kind of like that there aren't skirts," Pate joked. "It makes it seem like more of a sport. ... I think of competitive cheer and sideline cheer are two completely two different things. I think competitive cheer is more of a sport, but this is more of a sport than any of the three."

Pate first found out about the acrobatics and tumbling team through her father, Jerry, who was the athletic trainer for the Bears' men's basketball team for 10 years and is now the athletic trainer at Belton.

"I was so excited because I have always had my eyes set on Baylor," Pate said, who started gymnastics when she was six years old and rose to the ranking of a level-nine gymnast. "My background in (gymnastics) has meant everything. It is how I learned how to do all of this and I fell in love with it."

Pate earned a state championship on the floor exercise and went on to earn a seven-state, regional floor championship in Wichita, Kan. However, when she was 13, Pate tore her left tricep the two weeks before a regional qualifying meet. Just like that her gymnastics career was over.

And cheering? That wasn't an option - not then.

"As a gymnast, I always resented cheer," Pate said. "I told myself I would never be a cheerleader."

It took her about a year to warm up to the idea - and took some encouragement from her mother.

"I missed (tumbling) too much and thought cheer would be a way to keep going," Pate said. "And my mom didn't want me to waste all those years I spent training for gymnastics. She encouraged me to try it. ... And so I did and I am so thankful for that decision."

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