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Athletes by nature, cheerleaders by choice

Monday, August 11th, 2014 | Posted by
Cloverdale High School Cheerleading Captain Katie Alexander, along with Iri Espinoza, left, and Kasey Wiget work on a cheer during a recent practice session.

Katie Alexander, 17, leads a cheer during a recent practice, along with Iri Espinoza,16, and Kasey Wiget, 16. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

By Mary Jo Winter / Cloverdale TOWNS correspondent

Cloverdale High School junior Allison Higginbotham signed up for cheerleading in her freshman year because she thought it would be easy. It has turned out to be the complete opposite.

“With all the practicing, memorization and performing, it can be challenging,” she admits, “but it’s a lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Cheerleading involves much more than waving blue and gold pompoms, yelling a few cheers and dancing around on the football field at half time.

It is a sport that takes dedication, commitment and a lot of hard work. Cheering combines the precision and timing of drill team with the discipline and expression of dance, both of which require many hours of practice.

In addition, dancing and cheering require fit athletes, so squad members are expected to do conditioning workouts and training as part of the program. They start their pre-season workouts and training even earlier than the school’s football team.

Practicing toe touches are, r-l, Allison Higginbotham. 16, Iri Espinoza, 16, and Robin Weathers, 16. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

Practicing toe touches are, r-l, Allison Higginbotham. 16, Iri Espinoza, 16, and Robin Weathers, 16. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

According to their coach, Tanya Alexander, “The squad starts pre-season practice right after school ends in June. They practice three to five times a week in order to prep for the football season kick-off in August. They also attend community service events and do active fundraising in the summer.”

During the school year, she says they do conditioning workouts, practice up to four times a week, cheer at all varsity and junior varsity games, do community service and continue to actively fundraise, all while maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA.

One of the cheerleaders is a dual-sport athlete participating in both cheerleading and volleyball. Other squad members are involved in student government, drama, sports outside of CHS or work at a job.

“Just balancing academics and one sport commitment is a lot because academic loads are tougher every year and sports program expectations at CHS are high,” says Alexander. “Adding other activities or sports and successfully balancing them all requires a solid work ethic and a level of maturity.”

Aimee Calzontzi, 17, practices a group dance with other members of the squad. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

Aimee Calzontzi, 17, practices a group dance with other members of the squad. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

There are no scholarships so money earned from fundraisers and sponsorships help cover the costs of their uniforms, any training camps, equipment, squad activities and trips. Alexander says cheering is an expensive sport, primarily due to the cost of training camps and uniforms, most of which are outgrown or worn out within a year.

CHS cheerleaders are ambassadors for their sport, their school and their community. Program rules make it very clear that they will be held accountable for their words, choices and actions. A reminder is printed on the back of their squad t-shirts.

“Athlete by nature, cheerleader by choice. Strength doesn’t come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming what you thought you couldn’t. I won’t let the fear of falling stop me from flying. I don’t just cheer. I lead. I inspire. Because somewhere in that crowd there is a little girl who wants to be like me.”

The girls pull together for other things besides cheering. Four years ago, the squad committed to make fighting childhood cancer their community service focus. To that end, they take part in Relay for Life, this year reaching their goal to raise $1,000 for the American Cancer Society.

They also participate in the annual Oktoberfest event, donating half of the proceeds from their pie eating challenges, raffles and auctions to the Courtney Jade Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund.

This year was the first time they participated as a dance group in the Citrus Fair Talent Show and will probably do it again next year. They have also won trophies for their decorated theme and dance floats in the Citrus Fair Parade.

Alyssa Richardson, 16, practicies with members of the cheerleading squad during practice. (Beth Schanker / Press Democrat)

Alyssa Richardson, 16, practicies with members of the cheerleading squad during practice. (Beth Schanker / Press Democrat)

The 2014/15 squad is comprised of seniors Katie Alexander, Aimee Calzontzi and Iri Espinoza and juniors Allison Higginbotham, Alyssa Richardson, Robin Weathers and Kasey Wiget.

For Alexander, things that make coaching so rewarding include seeing the girls find their inner strength, overcome obstacles, reach goals they didn’t think were possible and find their self-confidence.

Alyssa Richardson is a prime example. “I decided to be a cheerleader because I wanted to try something new. I used to be really shy, but now, I’m just out there. I love cheer.”

There are many ways for community members, local businesses and service groups to help support the program, from fundraising events and community outreach projects, to team sponsorships and “adopt-a-cheerleader” opportunities. For more information, contact Alexander at either 332-9296 or tanya.alexander@comcast.net.

 

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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