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The UCF cheer team is poised to compete in the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships this coming weekend at Disney's Wide World of Sports, but when their feet hit the mat, you'll see more men out there than women sporting black and gold.

The UCF cheer team is made up of 22 men and 20 women, but with those numbers, the team's head coach Linda Gooch said there are some misconceptions about what exactly a male cheerleader does.

"Sometimes people, when they think of cheerleading, think of pom pom girls. They can't understand what the guys do," Gooch said. "What we're doing is an alternative gymnastics. It's very difficult to accomplish without the males. From an entertainment standpoint, it adds to the acrobatics and excitement of what we do on sidelines."

Such acrobatics include holding up the female cheerleaders or providing support for a pyramid structure, but for these feats of acrobatics to be accomplished, the men need to train just like any other athlete.

With the help of Drew Williams, the strength and conditioning coach for the cheer team, some male cheerleaders hold records in the weight room, right alongside basketball, baseball or football players.

Male cheerleaders currently hold the record for power clean lift at 355 pounds and are set to break two other records: squat currently at 535 pounds and bench press currently at 550 pounds.

But how do they compare to other athletes in the weight room?

"They can probably lift more," Williams said. "The common misconception is that they're weak, and they're not; we take pride in making them stronger."

But weightlifting isn't the only area where male cheerleaders go toe-to-toe with other athletes. Male cheerleader recruiting, Gooch said, can be just as intense as basketball or baseball recruiting.

"A talented male cheerleader is very sought after recruit," Gooch said, comparing them with how coveted linebackers are in football. "Scholarship is involved so we're always going for the bigger guys."

As with other sports, there are walk-ons, such as Stephen Hood, a sophomore Aerospace engineering major, whose affinity for cheerleading was a family trait.

"My dad was a cheerleader so I've kind of always known about it. I was a gymnast growing up and I knew it wasn't a big transition," Hood said. "Looking around at schools, UCF has a really impressive cheer team, and I didn't know anybody else coming to UCF, so I thought that'd be a cool family to get plugged into."

Like Hood, some come in with relative experience; others, such as Kevin Delgado, a junior interdisciplinary studies major, come in relatively green.

Delgado went to a clinic with a friend on the team and was encouraged to try out after coaches liked what they saw.

Although Delgado cheered for two years in high school, he said it was nothing compared to UCF. The cheer team family is what really brought him to UCF and he said the university does a good job of making them feel welcome in the athletics department.

"[Other people] don't think of us as athletes until they see what we can do, but this school does a really good job of respecting us as athletes," Delgado said. "During fall, we have three to four practices a week and morning workout twice a week."

There are perks to their positions on the team as well. With the cheer team, Delgado has been able to go to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, Ireland and Paris. For someone whose dream is to travel the world, those memories last a lifetime.

Like any other sport, there are aspects of competition in cheerleading. The Division 1A Cheer Finals, where the Knights will perform, are on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Last year, the team came in second to the University of Kentucky.

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Adam Rhodes is the Entertainment Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @byadamrhodes or email him at Adamr@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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