MIDLOTHIAN — Like the Cleveland Cavaliers iconic superstar was custom fit for the game of basketball, Sierra Frailey was born to cheerlead.
And performing near-perfect handsprings in April Frailey's womb.
The Midlothian High School senior's signing of the first cheerleading scholarship in more than 10 years — and possibly city history — to cheerlead at Blinn College in the fall on Friday at the MHS TV room wasn't only historic.
It was also a culmination of a 17-year process honing her craft to become one of the most proficient cheer acrobats in Ellis County.
"I was literally flipping before I was born," Sierra said, pointing to her mother's stomach. "I did ballet when I was three and when my sister got into cheer, I went to follow in my sister's footsteps. It just came naturally for me. I was doing backflips across the gym at four years old."
"She did her first back handspring series — eight or nine in a row — when she was four and I have a video of that," April interjected.
In the world of competitive cheer, Blinn isn't only a hardpoint on the map of success. It's a destination. The Kilgore Rangerettes rule the Texas Landscape as the top drill team and Corsicana's Navarro College represents the Texas' best two-year college, but Blinn isn't far behind.
According to a ranking of the top 40 cheerleading-oriented collegiate programs in the nation based on academics, competitiveness, game day atmosphere and scholarships offered found on Cheer! Magazine's online site, Navarro sits at No. 20. While the University of Kentucky, Alabama, Central Florida, Louisville and South Carolina hold positions one through five, Texas Tech University is the only other Lone Star State-based school in the top 20.
Blinn's Buccaneers won back-back-to-back National Cheer Association Championships under Head Cheer Coach Michael Brewster in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and have begun to carve their niche in the sport.
The Buccaneer Spirit Program also finished fourth at the NCA Championships in 2012 and second place in 2013 under the guidance of the 10-year former cheerleader and current coach and choreographer.
"Navarro's known for their cheer program, too, but because they're in a different division, they win all of their nationals and Blinn wins all of theirs in their division," said Joyce Griffith, the MHS head cheer coach. "It's nationally known as one of the premier programs. Right now kids are trying out for Blinn that are flying in from California and Colorado with no guarantees."
Sierra, however, will attend Blinn on a partial cheerleading scholarship. The Buccaneers will pay for more than half of her tuition and books during her freshman semester.
The feat of being good enough in the eyes of a three-time national champion is one thing. Proving yourself to be talented, versatile and proficient enough to get a championship program to pay for you to cheer for them is entirely another — especially given that men get a bulk of the scholarships.
"There are schools that offer cheerleading scholarships, but there aren't that many. Certainly not like football or baseball. It's pretty rare. A lot of those full and partial scholarships typically go to men," Griffith said matter-of-factly. "They need the tumble skills and the muscle to do the complicated lifts. Usually, they are begging for that type of skill set in men. There are fewer men that do it and there are hundreds and hundreds of girls that want to be cheerleaders."
"Men will typically get a scholarship easier than a girl unless that school has an all-girl squad," April added. "At Blinn it's co-ed and the highest level of tumbling and stunting requirements. They support cheer as a sport there, especially when they go to Daytona for NCA nationals."
Of the more than 100 cheerleading companies and associations throughout the country like the American Cheer Association and Universal Cheer Association, the NCA, which started in 1948 by former Southern Methodist University cheerleader Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, is the oldest and markedly most respected.
April sighed like a Soldier dropping her pack after a long journey and smiled like a mother seeing her child for the first time as she leaned back in in a small plastic office chair.
Sierra leaned forward, smiled back and chuckled at her mother's reaction. They were simple and harmless movements, but they conveyed her confidence that success was only a matter of time.
The journey from wild-child freshman to Midlothian darling and Blinn scholarship recipient, however, was fraught with bumps, bruises and sacrifice.
"Freshman year I was a show-off, but through the years, I became more humble about everything." she said, softly nudging her sister Sara "Lexy" Roe and shooting a glance at her brother Tyler Frailey. "I wanted to fit in more than stand out."
"She's definitely my LeBron James, but I never had to say anything about that," Griffith added. "It's hard to be a showoff when you are that good. She's a very well-rounded cheerleader. She's not just good at tumbling, jumping or stunting. That happens and you'll have girls that are really good at one specific thing and good at others. It's not usual you have an athlete that is good across the board and can do everything at the level she does.
"I never wanted her to dummy down her cheerleading because she's better than a lot of other girls. though. Since I've known her, she has matured beyond belief and become a gracious leader."
For those thinking the world of cheerleading can be depicted correctly by the glamor of the 2000 film "Bring It On" or its poorly-made 2004 successor "Bring It On Again," think again. According to the United States Sports Academy's website, the sport of cheerleading ranks first in women's athletics and second in all sports in regards to catastrophic sports injuries.
Only American football is higher.
In 2008, cheerleading accounted for 66.7 percent of all female sports catastrophic injuries, compared to the past estimate of 59.4 percent.
In spite of her "Lebron-like" athletic ability and the inherent danger of the sport she's dedicated her life to, Sierra adheres to the mantra of Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant and the quote he spoke in his first press conference as an NBA rookie.
"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard," Durant said.
In addition to daily routines and practices at MHS, she carries a part-time job, competes in competitive cheer with the Midlothian-based Liberty Cheer All-Stars & Liberty Gymnastics Academy and holds a 3.78 GPA.
"She spends almost 12 hours a week in the gym practicing outside of MHS and about 15 hours here," Griffith said. "The coaches at LCA, especially Coach Troy Deering works well with us fitting all that she does into a regimented schedule."
It's fitting for a girl that wants to double major in kinesiology and dermatology and will do so with the first cheerleading scholarship in recent Midlothian history.
The scope of the journey from uber-talented toddler to star-child pre-teen to role-model cheer captain, in the eyes and perspective of Sierra, has had little to do with her and more with being blessed enough to be surrounded by good people.
Having two families — through blood and cheerleading — didn't hurt her chances of being successful either, she said.
"They've taught me not how to just be a better cheerleader, but also how to be a better person," Sierra said as the tears began to form at the edges of her brown eyes. "Emotionally they've been there for me and I can talk to them about every and anything. They've been there through the injuries and adversity and the nervousness and the hard practices. I wouldn't be the disciplined leader or person without any of them. I may not even be where I am right now."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.