CAMP SPRINGS -- Dante Barnes is used to getting razzed by other kids when his Camp Springs Boys and Girls Club squad leads cheers at weekend football games.
"They keep on saying, 'A boy cheerleader, that's dumb,' " the 7 1/2 -year-old said recently. "They just laugh. I just go ahead and cheer. I don't ever care."
Dante and the eight girls on the squad showed their stuff at the annual boys and girls clubs state cheerleading competition at the University of Maryland earlier this month. A competition official said there were no records on male participation, but that in her 20 years with the organization, Dante was only the second boy she recalled competing in the traditionally all-girl event.
"He gets all the attention. He thinks it's fun. He likes it," said Dante's mom, Angela Philpott, 26, a former Friendly High cheerleader.
"He always likes to be the center attraction so it didn't bother him none," said Dante's grandmother Annette Barnes, who made her grandson a pair of burgundy shorts to match the skirts worn by the girls on his squad.
Ms. Barnes said she gave Dante this advice: "You can be what you want to be. Let people say what they want to say."
Ms. Philpott said Dante got involved in cheerleading because his 6-year-old cousin was doing it. Dante helped her learn the cheers and then was recruited to the squad by Mae McKoy, cheerleading commissioner for the Camp Springs club.
Last year, Dante participated in soccer and cheerleading through the club. But this year, a doctor prohibited Dante, an asthmatic, from playing soccer. So instead, he leads the cheers for the club's football team, the Tigers.
"One reason I like cheerleading is because it's fun," said Dante, a second-grader at Middleton Valley Elementary School in Temple Hills.
Ms. McKoy said she has encouraged other boys to try cheerleading but has been unsuccessful. She said it was important to "break down the male concept that cheerleading and ballet is strictly for girls."
"I thought that maybe he could set the example," Ms. McKoy said. "I've had some boys that said, 'Hmmm, I might do it.' But then the fathers come along and say, 'Oh, no, not my son.' "
Initially, Dante's dad "was like, 'No, uh-uh,' " Ms. Philpott said, but he eventually relented.
When Dante does occasionally get fed up with cheerleading, it's not because of gender stereotyping. It's the decibel level that he has to generate.
"One night, I came home with a sore throat," he said.