First ladies of football
Friday nights in the fall mean packed football stadiums with unmatched intensity on the field. Combined with hundreds of roaring fans, hard hits and big plays, sheer excitement is the common feeling between spectators and players.
High school football, however, just would not be high school football if it lacked one of its classic components – cheerleaders.
For both Bear River and Nevada Union fans, cheerleaders are a staple on the sidelines. Although few fans actually cheer for the cheerleaders themselves, the shouting support group connects the football faithful to the gridiron.
“We’re the link between fans and the field,” said Kate Newman, a graduate of Nevada Union in 2004 and former cheerleader there. “When the crowd’s going crazy, or when we’re in a tough part of the game and the crowd needs to be unified, the cheers bring people together.”
When it comes down to it, cheerleading’s importance is often overlooked. But to Bear River’s senior co-captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, Ally Earl, without the work she and her teammates put into the games, Friday night’s sensation would be toned down a few decibels.
“It would be a lot more dull without cheerleaders,” she said. “There would be a lot less people in the crowd.”
Without the promotion the cheerleaders do all season long to get the word out about games, turnouts would be lessened and spirit would be wanting, she said.
Although its reason for being is football – or the other sports teams they support, cheerleading offers something to the girls as well.
As a classic character-builder, said Bear River coach Carol Zacche, cheerleading also builds self-confidence. Performing nightly over nearly a quarter of the year for four years, in front of hundreds – if not thousands – of people, she said, will pound the self-consciousness out of anyone.
“It’s actually pretty exciting to know that so much of the community is involved,” said 16-year-old Danielle Dawson, a nine-year veteran of cheerleading and co-captain at Nevada Union this fall. “I’m used to seeing everybody there, so I’m used to being in front of so many people.”
“For the girls on varsity,” Earl said, “we just love it – it’s really fun being in the limelight and being seen. It’s not nerve-racking for us, but I’m sure it is for the newcoming freshmen.”
Despite the cliches, cheerleading is not all blonde hair and fuzzy sweaters. The amount of preparation it takes to perfect cheers is overwhelming for some, while just plain tiring for others.
During the season, cheerleaders practice at least four days a week after school – what would be the fifth day is spent at the game – and over the summer three-hour practices are held three days a week, along with week-long camps.
Not all of a cheerleader’s time is devoted to practice, though. Countless hours are spent fund raising, mainly to raise money for uniforms, which several cheerleaders said run close to $500 each.
“(Cheerleading) has become a really big part of life,” Earl said. “Especially for me, because I love it.”
“It’s a huge commitment,” Zacche said.
Cheerleading also is no longer just on-site support for those playing the games. It has branched off into its own separate sport, with national championships held annually that have become more important to some cheerleaders than being under the lights, shouting “De-fense!” (clap, clap) “De-fense!”
But Earl could care less.
“I’m a really competitive person,” she said. “But cheerleading wouldn’t be what it is if you couldn’t cheer at football games. You have to get school spirit before you can have team spirit.”
School spirit is a must for cheerleading, Zacche agreed.
“Cheerleaders are involved with the whole school,” she said. A former cheerleader herself, she knows that spirit is what cheerleaders attempt to bring to students, fans, and the players on the field.
What would the Miners’ entrance onto the field be without the tunnel of cheerleaders to run through?
On the road, it’s a different story. Bruin and Miner cheers might be drowned out by those of Colfax’s or Yuba City’s, and the cheerleaders on the opposite sidelines seem to care for each other about as much as the opposing fans.
“The first time we see the cheerleaders, there’s always a staredown,” Earl said. “But at halftime when we go onto the field to cheer, we’re all pretty nice to each other. I’m not sure if it’s fake, but we all put on a smile.”
Being in other venues leads to nervousness, said Dawson, but the large contingent of traveling NU fans alleviate a lot of pressure.
“They make everywhere feel like home,” she said. Especially on the road, she added, the cheerleaders connect fans to the team even more than at home.
“We’re definitely part of the energy, getting everyone excited,” she said.
Regardless of cheerleaders’ feuds between opposing squads, their hearts are with the football teams. Although stereotypes might have people believe that cheerleaders continue to smile, cheer, kick, and shake their pom-poms when their team’s quarterback just got sacked for the third time in a row and they are down 76-3 with 1 minute, 38 seconds showing on the clock … it’s just not true.
Earl, who says cheerleaders have to study the game before they can cheerlead, aspires to knows as much about football as, say, John Madden.
“You have to know the sport in order to cheer for it,” she said. “So you really get involved in it.”
Along the way, with practices, camps, fund-raisers, games, and feuds with other cheerleaders, a relationship is formed much like that formed inside the football locker room.
“You become a family,” Newman said. “Whether you like it or not, you spend more time with the girls than with your own family. You learn to rely on them and treat them like they are your family.”
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