Cheerleaders more than a sideline show

Members of the Bremerton High cheerleading squad work on one of their 14 dance routines Wednesday morning at Memorial Stadium as they prepare for their upcoming performances during the football season. - Photo by Sean Lamphere
Members of the Bremerton High cheerleading squad work on one of their 14 dance routines Wednesday morning at Memorial Stadium as they prepare for their upcoming performances during the football season.
— image credit: Photo by Sean Lamphere

It’s 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning and members of the Bremerton High cheerleading squad are already running through their paces.

Each practice for the 10-member team starts with a 1-mile jog around the Memorial Stadium track before a round of stretching to limber up for the day’s three-hour practice.

Cheers, chants, dances, pompoms and stunts are all on the schedule — all part of getting ready for the upcoming football season which is a week sooner than usual since the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association added an additional game to the preps season.

And that has Knights cheer coach Barbara Nelson a bit worried that the traditional team welcoming with the band might not be ready by Sept. 5’s game against Foss.

But her girls — Britney Clemen, Marie Confessor, Christine Deguzman, Ashley Foutch, Hope Henderson, Charese Jones, Jessie Pearlman, Meghan Rowley, Julie Siemens and Nicole Ulrey — will be ready, Nelson, a former cheerleader at West Bremerton High, promised.

After all, they are coming off their first trip to cheer camp in years where, against nine other teams (including Central Kitsap and Olympic (both teams previously coached by Nelson)), they were the recipients of the Team Award for exemplary leadership and values, the Stunt Smart Award for spotting and technique skills and the coveted Spirit Stick Award for their enthusiasm shown over four days at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

“They’ve never been to camp before and they just loved it. It was unique experience for them,” Nelson said.

Besides running, the team is encouraged to hit the weight room, according to Nelson, “Because they’re athletes and they have to get into shape,” for the football, basketball and cheer competition schedule that runs all the way to next March and has the pitfalls of injuries that plague every athletic program running from bruises to strained muscles.

Having such a long season with a nearly daily schedule of practices, pep assemblies, games and special events means it’s that much harder to attract girls and boys to take on the role of cheerleader. Only 20 kids turned out last spring from the 1,100 student population.

“A lot of kids just don’t want the commitment,” Nelson said. “This is a year-round program because you start in the spring and end the following spring.”

That’s a lot of work for a letter and a line on a college application.

But for those that are up to the task, it can be a life-altering experience.

“If you give kids the opportunity and the chance, they just blossom,” Nelson said.

Just watching the girls practice was a unique experience for myself. I’ve written some unkind things about cheerleaders in the past and was chastised for it unrelentingly for weeks on end by coaches, parents and athletic directors alike.

As a band geek in high school, I never knew that even the littlest chant requires a flurry of discussions which develop into a brainstorming session to determine each little arm, leg and body movement that all have to fit the chant’s cadence. Then when the pieces of the puzzle are determined, then it’s all a matter of getting every girl moving the same way as they practice the moves again and again and again.

And just when they get that chant done, Nelson calls for a previously learned chant which forces the team to change gears and recall those moves — just as they would in a game situation in front of thousands of screaming Knights fans.

And I used to think they just kept on recycling each chant routines year after year.

“They are much more ahead of where they were last year,” said Nelson, adding that the season starts with tryouts just after spring break. They already have their new uniforms and a list of 14 dances, 10 cheers and 90 chants. “And we continually work on new cheers and stunting.

“We are still trying to build a program here at Bremerton. We took third at the state cheerleading contest last March and that really put their esteem up.”

Only three of the 10 girls are returners from last year’s senior-laden squad, “so it’s like having a new team,” Nelson said. But with the success they’ve had so far, these girls are ready to put on their biggest smiles and perform like the athletes they are.

Now I’m going to eat some humble pie and pay a lot more attention when I hear somebody yell out “Ready? OK!”

Sean Lamphere is the sports editor of the Bremerton Patriot.

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