Girls basketball: Five Trojans have game — and spirit, too

ARMSTRONG — The shrill sound of the alarm clock wakes Abbie Stewart out of a deep sleep before the sun rises.

It’s probably the last sound the Armstrong-Potomac sophomore wants to hear on a weekday.

When the bleary-eyed Stewart opens her eyes for the first time, it’s usually before 7 a.m. At the latest, the clock reads 7:05 a.m.

She then begins the process of getting ready for high school, knowing she won’t see her home again until later that day, long after the sun goes down.

Once the final bell rings at 3 p.m. to finish her school day, Stewart is off to basketball practice. Two hours of drills, running and scrimmaging under the watchful eye of A-P head coach Nick Hipsher follow.

A short break ensues of roughly 15, maybe 20 minutes. Then it’s off for three hours of cheerleading practice, working on cheers, stunts and running.

“I’m usually at school from 8 in the morning to 8 at night,” Stewart said.

Then it’s time to head home, grab a quick bite to eat and focus in on homework. Stewart usually gets all that accomplished by 11 p.m.

And that example is just what a typical Wednesday is like for her.

But Stewart isn’t alone during the arduous day she has just put in.

Four of her A-P girls basketball teammates — senior Kirsten Newnum, juniors Courtney Hambleton and Morgan Zindars, and freshman Ashley Gayheart — are right there with her.

All five not only represent the Trojans’ girls basketball program, but also A-P’s cheerleading program.

If you were at the Trojans’ game at Robert L. Bezely Gymnasium on Dec. 11 against Danville Schlarman and thought your eyes had mistaken you, they hadn’t.

Moments after playing in the Trojans’ 55-44 victory against the Hilltoppers, Newnum, Hambleton, Zindars and Stewart were back on the court cheering as A-P and Schlarman met in a boys basketball game.

Gayheart has missed most of both seasons so far with mononucleosis.

“We went from a very tough game to then cheering,” Zindars said. “But quitting’s never an option. Plus we stay out of trouble, and it keeps me in shape.”

Most schools don’t allow girls like these five to do both. The time constraints are severe enough.

But in a school that only has 136 students like Armstrong-Potomac, it’s almost a necessity for girls to compete in both. Newnum, Hambleton, Zindars, Stewart and Gayheart  make up half of the Trojans’ 10-member girls basketball roster, and almost half of the 13-member cheerleading squad the Trojans have.

“It’s one of those things where if they make them choose, our school’s not really big enough to support that,” Hipsher said. “We might not have a basketball team if that happens.”

A sixth Trojans girls basketball player, junior forward Rachel Miles, did cheerleading last year, but isn’t this year. She has a valid reason though. She plays club volleyball in her time away from basketball.

“Without doing both, we wouldn’t have a team for either,” said Newnum, who like Hambleton, started cheerleading in fifth grade, with Zindars, Stewart and Gayheart honing in on cheerleading in seventh grade. “I like that I can do both because at most schools you can’t do both, but at the same time, it can really drain you. I thought junior year was bad, but senior year, working on college stuff as well as high school stuff, it is completely draining.”

Newnum thought about not going out for cheerleading this year.

“There was a doubt with me for cheerleading because it’s my senior year, and we had a lot of new girls,” Newnum said. “It was just a lot of work.”

Especially last week and this week.

The Trojans had a girls basketball game on Dec. 10 at home against Salt Fork, then the doubleheader with Schlarman the following day.

Thursday found the quintet unable to head to St. Joseph and cheer on the Trojans’ boys basketball team against St. Joseph-Ogden in the Leader Classic because the girls had a game at Hoopeston Area.

Friday found them having basketball practice after school before cheering in the boys basketball team’s home game against Salt Fork, and then cheering twice during the boys’ games on Saturday at the Leader Classic.

In between the two games on Saturday, the cheerleaders were able to squeeze in a team Christmas party at Monical’s in St. Joseph.

“It keeps me busy,” Hambleton said in an understatement. “I didn’t want to do basketball my freshman year. I just didn’t like it, and now I love it. It’s hard to keep your grades up doing both because you go home and stay up late, but our team’s pretty close, so we just keep each other up.”

This is the first year Stewart has done both basketball and cheerleading at the same time. She’s glad she has their support if she needs it.

“I can talk to them if I’m having trouble with everything going on,” Stewart said. “You want to be there for both. I like cheering at games, but (Thursday) we were doing another sport.”

This week, the Trojans had a girls basketball game on Monday at home against Bismarck-Henning, and have games at Oakwood on Thursday night and at Watseka on Saturday morning.

Friday afternoon will find them in St. Joseph at 4 p.m. cheering on the Trojans’ boys basketball team against Fisher in the seventh-place game of the Leader Classic.

And oh yes, they also have to contend with final exams this week.

Hipsher credits A-P cheerleading coaches Susie Bird and Sara Parkerson for making what can seem like a hectic schedule flow smoothly.

“Susie helps me out because she’ll drive the players to the games if I want to practice a little bit later,” Hipsher said. “She’s a huge help.”

And as Hipsher, Newnum, Zindars, Hambleton, Stewart and Gayheart stated multiple times, they are choosing to have the active, yet time-consuming schedule they have right now.

Thirty years from now, Hambleton doesn’t think they’ll look back with regret or bitter feelings about doing both.

“I’ll be glad I did it,” she said. “If not, my high school life would be boring.”
mdaniels@rantoulpress.com

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