Go, Fight, Roar


Melanie Burton
Digital Documentary Photography
December 2009

            This project was a challenge for me from the beginning. Although I love taking pictures, I’m always the girl everyone wishes didn’t have a camera because I take so many, I couldn’t seem to find something that both motivated and excited me. However, with only a few weeks left to create what I hoped would be my masterpiece, my teacher, Susie Postrust came to my aid and compelled me to chose something: a high school cheerleading team.

            Upon committing to this topic, I almost immediately became excited. I told my friends the weeks of deliberation were over and I had finally come up with a topic. I couldn’t stop talking about how perfect it was: I had been a high school cheerleader and I remembered the excitement of Friday night football, the pressure of holding a fellow student in the air and praying that she wouldn’t fall, and of course, the drama. Thus, I began my quest for a team to photograph and stumbled upon the Sanderson High Spartans, a revered varsity cheerleading team in Raleigh North Carolina. Jocelyn Bradford, the team’s charming coach, was voted coach of the year in 2009 after leading the Spartan cheerleaders to two state championships in the last five years. The team sounded perfect, and indeed it was.

            I was impressed every step of the way by their incredible skill, dedication, and drive to stay focused, despite the two other teams sharing the small gym where they practiced. Moreover, I admired the girls’ inclination to stay positive through constructive criticism and hours of practicing routines until they were no less than perfect. The cheerleaders periodic laughter, smiling faces, and blatant respect for coach Bradford showed me not only how much they enjoy what they are doing, but the way a coach can truly dictate the atmosphere of a team. All in all, I knew I stumbled upon an amazing group of girls.

           One cheerleader, Sarah Beth Tyrey, augmented this sentiment. She welcomed me into her life and gave me the opportunity to delve into who a cheerleader really is outside of the cheerleading bubble. Sarah Beth showed me how she balances her “other life” which is mandated by schoolwork, SAT prep, and of course spending time with friends.

            So, here it is, my take on Sarah and her cheerleading team, a speciously superficial topic, but in actuality reveals a formidable, driven group of teenage girls.