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Mother-daughter share passion for cheering
Current Inspirational Christian Cheerleading Academy campers and staff members are: Knilah Waters, Chelsea Purnell, Keyyanna Jones, head coach Linda Purnell and assistant coach Zacharia Purnell. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

What they work on

Coach Linda Purnell expects her cheerleaders to excel in athletics and academics. In addition to their physical training, Purnell requires each of her campers to write a paper on the six pillars of character. The pillars are:
• Trustworthiness: There has to be an element of trust between the teammates. There is no room for animosity.
• Respect: You must respect yourself and as well as others.
• Responsibility: Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there and do what you are supposed to do. Lead by example.
• Fairness: Everybody has the same opportunities. There is no bias.
• Care: Care for yourself and others.
• Citizenship: The morals and values the children develop and carry through life.

Not everyone considers cheerleading a sport. But Linda Purnell and her daughter Zacharia are likely to argue otherwise. The mother-daughter duo serves as head coach and assistant coach of Inspirational Christian Cheerleading Academy in Hinesville.
“They are incorrect,” Linda Purnell said. “Cheerleading is so much greater than people imagine. Kids are receiving four-year scholarships for cheerleading. And when I mention that to parents, their eyes open wide in amazement. I teach my campers what the colleges are looking for. They are looking at how well you do in the classroom, are you involved in community service.”
“Just like football and basketball we got to state tournaments and championship games,” Zacharia Purnell said. “They (football players) hit players to bring them down, we lift teammates up. If we can lift somebody then we are just as much a sport as football, basketball and anything else.”
Their spirit, passion and enthusiasm have encouraged the women on their mission to introduce boys and girls to the world of cheering.
Purnell runs ICCA and recently started summer sessions. The first of a two-part summer session ended Friday, but the Purnells are preparing for the next session, which runs July 12-31.
Linda Purnell said the first session focused on conditioning, basic jumps, tumbling, cheering, chants, arm movements and stances.
“Our second session will be a bit more advanced,” she said. “We’ll be moving forward but if we see a child has specific needs we will work with them. Potential campers are still encouraged to register, even if they missed the first session.”
Linda Purnell, 46, said she has been cheering for 41 years now.
“And for me, it has made me who I am,” she said. “It has kept me vigorous and young and in touch with the children. It taught me to endure. I can still recall the first time cheerleading was introduced to me. ... I can still remember, to this day, the first cheer I ever learned.”
She said she has designed the camps so participants will understand and appreciate the hard work that goes into cheering.
“This camp and this academy are for the kids who have the heart and the passion to become a serious cheerleader,” Purnell said. “There is a misconception that you can just learn how to do a back tuck or a back hand spring but that alone does not make you a cheerleader. I tell the cheerleaders that what you learn at camp you must continue to apply at home. They need to practice on their own and have a passion for it.”
She emphasized that cheering is a team sport and every person must learn to trust and depend on their teammates.
“It’s not a joke because you sometimes hold the life of a teammate in your hands,” she said. “If you’re a flyer and you are up there and they don’t catch you right, you could be gone.
On Fridays, the cheerleaders train in the gym, strength train and swim to loosen and lengthen their muscles.
“In order to be a cheerleader, you can’t be lazy and you have to build your stamina,” Purnell said.
To ensure the athletes are prepared academically, her campers do homework.
“They have to do a paper on the 10 work ethics and one on the six pillars of character,” she said. “It’s a part of life and it’s what I learned and what cheerleading has done for me. It’s all about teamwork, cooperation and being responsible and respectable with your teammates.”
Purnell takes her business seriously. She said she takes pride in helping athletes achieve their goals. She is certified by the American Association of Cheerleading coaches and Advisors, which falls under the Universal Cheer Association.
To maintain her certification, the coach takes continuous education courses to stay updated on the latest advancements in the sport and related safety issues.
Her drive is deeply rooted in her Christian upbringing. Purnell said her business and life motto comes from Philippians 4:13.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she said.
As a testament to her personal and coaching skills, Purnell’s assistant coach and daughter, Zacharia, is headed to Brenau University where the 18-year-old will major in performing arts and minor in business management. She also will work with the cheering squad.
The younger Purnell said that just like her mom, she’s been cheering her whole life.
“It has taught me about teamwork and about being a leader as well as a follower,” she said. “You have to be a good follower in order to be a good leader. It’s taught me about being strong, dedicated and committed.”
Zacharia Purnell said the sport has helped her stay in shape as well.
“It keeps you going and you do a lot of cardiovascular work and it keeps you busy,” she said.
Much like her mother, Zacharia Purnell said people don’t fully comprehend the enormous amount of time, energy and dedication it takes to cheer professionally.
“Some folks want to be great cheerleaders but don’t want to do all the work it takes to be a great cheerleader,” she said. “If you want to be one, you have to work hard. You have to start at ground zero and work your way up. You can’t give up so easily and so fast. You just have to keep concentrating and remain focused.”
Session two runs July 12-31. The camp costs $75 per week. There is an additional one-time registration fee of $25 for participants who register before July 9. The fee is $35 after that. For more information, call Linda Purnell at 492-8085 or 332-5452. The camp is at 719 S. Main St.
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