MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Cheerleading is normally found in high school gyms and football fields, but as the basketball season revs up at the Combat Center, the Cheer/Dance team prepares to boosts spirits across the courts here.This year, forty girls between the ages 7 and 12 are scheduled to cheer and perform dance routines during the Combat Center’s youth and mens basketball games throughout the season.The girls will prepare for a scheduled guest appearance at the Staples Center when the Los Angeles Clippers meet the Washington Wizards March 25.The girls are split into two groups by age. Half of the girls are in the 7- to 8-year-old group, led by Sheila Keim. The other half is in the 9- to 12-year-old group, led by Nicole Brown. The two coaches have years of experience in cheer and dance, but have never led such a large group of girls, said Keim. “We were approached by a representative from the Marine Corps Community Center about coaching the girls,” she said. “When we saw the turnout of girls, we felt overwhelmed at first, but we’re very optimistic about the whole thing.”The coaches put the routine together before the practices started in the beginning of this month. They decided that during the performance at the Staples Center, the girls would perform to the song “Shake Your Tail Feather,” by the Cheetah Girls from the “Chicken Little” soundtrack. The girls are scheduled to perform as one big squad in a three-minute routine during halftime. “The song is really popular among the girls,” said Keim. “They’re really excited about the performance.”The girls practice twice per week at the Community Center, an hour per group. They spend half the hour working on cheer fundamentals and the other half on dance.The girls are now learning there is a lot more to cheer/dance than the routine, said Keim.“We have to strengthen their core so it is easier to perform the moves in the routine,” she said. “At the beginning of each practice, we stretch and do a small number of calisthenics fit for their ages. We have them do five to 10 push-ups, and 20 sit-ups, which is good for the jumps they will perform.”Starting physical activities at a young age enables young girls to get a sense of how the body works, develop different learning styles and focus skills, said Keim. Parents know there is a lot more the girls get than dance moves and cheers, said Kimberly Tidwell, mother of eight-year-old Muranda Tidwell. “Its good for her confidence,” she said. “Also, by keeping active, kids stay out of trouble. I like to use extra activities to push my children to get good grades. They know if they don’t get good grades, they can’t participate in their choice of activities.”Although Muranda is young, it is important to instill her parents’ beliefs early and the importance of excelling in school, said Tidwell.“I like to dance because it’s a fun activity and you get to express a lot,” said Muranda, who recently wrote an essay in school about the cheer and dance team she’s so proud of.According to the Iowa State University Web site, ISU conducted a study about extra-curricular activities and concluded that children involved learn character-building lessons, lifelong skills and social skills. The study goes on to say extra-curricular activities might even save some at-risk students who might otherwise drop out of school.