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2-day meet will spotlight changes in cheerleading

It's not your grandma's rickety-rack anymore in Cheerleadingdom. It is all about basket catches and pretzels and Herkies and sucking it up.

It's not your grandma's rickety-rack anymore in Cheerleadingdom. It is all about basket catches and pretzels and Herkies and sucking it up.

While much of the world is done with cheerleading for the year - high school football season being over and all - the World Spirit Federation and its member clubs are in full cheer mode. Tomorrow and Sunday, the WSF national tour comes to the Atlantic City Convention Center for a two-day meet.

"This is not just some cheer for a football halfback," said P.J. Frantz, the East Coast sales director for the federation. "Cheerleading has gone to the next level. It is a sport in itself, with its own competitions, its own champions."

The WSF is but one of a number of groups that hold cheering competitions, its concentration being youth clubs rather than high school or college-affiliated squads. This weekend's competition will include five age groups ranging from Tiny (3 to 5 years old) to Senior (18 and older) and, within each age group, six skill levels. Both girls' and coed teams will compete.

Because 150 clubs are involved, mostly from the Northeast U.S., there will be a whole lot of candlesticks (that's when you put your fists out at a 90-degree angle looking like they are holding candles) and table tops (a jump where it looks like the cheerleader is sitting on air).

Frantz said it is early in the cheerleading-competition season, since so many club cheerleaders also do high school football cheering, so the groups in Atlantic City will be still perfecting their routines. Each routine, from those Tiny 3-year-olds to the well-seasoned Seniors, lasts 2 1/2 minutes, and each level and age group has standards to meet - generally, she said, standing tumbling, running tumbling, jumps, motion sequences and dancing.

"It is all set to music, usually custom music just for the routine, and really crisp," said Frantz. "You don't get bored or tired watching a lot of different routines."

Frantz said the Atlantic City competition has no favorites per se, since clubs change and some have stronger younger kids, while others tend to be older. It is not like the circus, though, with three or four acts going on at the same time. Each group gets its own 150 seconds in the spotlight. Each group, too, gets to go through its routine on both days.

"That way, if they see they didn't do something well the first day, they get to do it better on Sunday," she said.

"Atlantic City has become a huge family-fun kind of place, so our competition now fits right in," said Frantz. "It's healthy and all-American, just like Atlantic City is coming to be."

World Spirit Federation, Atlantic City Convention Center, One Miss America Way, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, $15 each day for adults, $10 children 6-10, free for those 5 and under. 877-973-2433.