There's no 'foo foo' on these cheer teams


Associate editor

Sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association since 1987, cheerleading is increasingly becoming recognized for its athletic merits.

“All three high schools have the same mentality,” Federal Way High cheer coach Shay Short said. “You cheer as an athletic endeavor rather than stand on the sideline and try to look cute.”

Teams are including lifts and throws into routines and are attending more and more competitions. At the beginning of the season, cheerleaders spend more time on conditioning, weight lifting and proper technique than learning chants.

“Before we start, we talk about content of character,” Decatur cheer coach Laurie Beaver said. “That’s where we start the team building. I’m also big on conditioning and weight lifting. It’s not going to do any good if you’re not in shape.”

“It’s like any sport, you have to train to do it,” Short said. “Once the conditioning is done, you’re ready to go and the sky is the limit. A big piece is trust in the team or it doesn’t work.”

During the school year, teams practice every day they don’t go to an event, which means it’s at least a five-day-a-week commitment

“It’s year-round,” Jefferson coach David Vinson said. “A lot of athletes get that break after a season is over. For us, when football and soccer end, we dig out the basketball and wrestling vernacular. People underestimate the amount of time it takes.”

Vinson also feels some people don’t respect the sport.

“Therefore they find it expendable and unimportant,” he said. “For example, I give my cheerleaders in June a copy of all the dates of events and practices until the following June and they give them to their employers who schedule them to work anyway. It’s highly disruptive to the team since we all know an employer wold never schedule a soccer player or a football player on game day.”

The Jefferson cheer team stands out because it is the only completely coed squad in the state — an equal number of boys and girls, despite the fact most schools struggle to get guys to cheer.

“I have to cut guys like I cut girls,” Vinson said. “It’s important to me that TJ cheer reflects the TJ student body. That’s what sets us apart. We have a lot more diversity.”

Jefferson also expands on the traditional cheering from the sidelines.

“Philosophically, we compete so we’re more of a building team,” Vinson said. “Fundamentally, when other schools are doing sideline chants they’re stronger than we are, but that’s their focus. Our focus is on the building and competition.”

Jefferson took first place at a competition in early December. It will compete again on Jan. 17 and 25 at Kentridge and Bellevue, respectively.

At Decatur, the cheer team is known for its strict adherence to rules of appearance, partly because coach Laurie Beaver is on the board of the Washington State Cheer Coaches Association.

“I’m a stickler for the rules — the way their hair is supposed to be, no jewelry,” Beaver said. “We hold our poms for everything. It’s part of the uniform. I have little old ladies who come up to me and comment about how clean and put together the team looks. There’s no foo foo at Decatur.”

In the past, stunting has been less of a priority for Decatur. But with stunts as part of the state competition in March, the Gators are starting to work it into their routine.

“If you’re going to go to the competitions, you need to learn to do it,” Beaver said. “The kids like it, but it’s a lot of hard work.”

Decatur was invited to nationals and won dance and leadership awards at the summer camp at the University of Puget Sound. Out of 15 teams, Decatur was voted the team that other cheerleaders would most want to join.

Federal Way’s team this year is one of the best in recent years, coach Shay Short said.

“This team is extremely talented,” Short said. “It’s one of the most talented squads I’ve coached.”

At camp last summer in Bellingham, the team earned a bid to go to nationals, but doesn’t have the finances to make the trip.

“We don’t compete too much because the time commitment is huge,” Short said. “We don’t have time to work on us, our goal is to help the school.”

Cheer coaches said being a cheerleader is more than performing at games.

“That’s what people see, but there are so many things people don’t see,” Short said. “Community service, helping before the school year with registration, any time someone needs something mailed out or something done, they go get the cheerleaders.”

Cheer squads work concessions at Safeco Field to earn money for uniforms and travel to competitions.

“That’s where they bond and learn to work as a team to get a goal accomplished,” Short said.

“Your life is over once you become a cheerleader,” Beaver said. “It’s a full time job.”

But the majority of the time is spent encouraging sports teams, game after game, night after night.

“People need to remember that people who choose to be a cheerleader, it means they want to be at your events supporting you,” Vinson said. “I don’t care if they’re terrible, it’s more fans watching you. You should support them. They’re like any student who gives up their afternoons for the school. Give them props for that. Don’t ever forget that.”

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