Another sport to cheer about

Plymouth High School’s cheer squad practices one of their kick moves.
Staff Writer

All of the fall high school sports are now in full swing, but another group of athletes have been working long hours in preparation for the start of the school season – the Plymouth High School cheer squad.

Since the team was selected at the end of April, they have been working out both as a team and on their own in anticipation of the first football games.
And just like the teams they cheer for in the fall, summer was an important training time.

“We practiced twice a week for two hours at a time,” said Plymouth cheer co-coach Kelsey Heisler. “It gets hectic once the school year starts. We have three games the first week – Thursday, Friday, Saturday (freshmen, varsity, JV).”

“We did a lot of conditioning,” said senior team member Makena Carmichael about the summer sessions. “We did a lot of running. We did a lot of ab work and core work. We practiced on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. We taught the newbies all of the cheers. We just tried to get comfortable with each other before the season starts. People think we are just doing chants and pumping everybody up, but we are lifting 120-pound girls over our heads. We’re like any other sport. We are working as a team, we have to strategize what works best, we make sure we are in unison, basically working together to produce a good show.”
And it’s not as easy as they make it look.

“People think it is not nearly as difficult as it really is,” added co-coach Traci Hilliard, herself a former cheerleader. “Mostly, it’s core strength activities. Everything they do starts there. If they are not strong there, they cannot do the things we want to do – the lifts and other things. We teach that you are lifting with your core, not your back. You learn how to use your legs. You need to have strength from the waist down. We encourage them to do planks, jog, any type of ab or core workout on off-days. They need to do that so they come to us ready to go.”

Cheerleading routines have become much more athletic over the past few years. For the high-profile competitive national squads, if you are not an accomplished gymnast, you have no shot at being on the team.

“We do a lot of stunts,” said junior Alexa Orozco. “There are four people in a stunt group – the bases, the back spotters, and the flier. They all take part in doing something amazing during a game or pep session. That takes a lot of work. We do a bunch of kicks, a bunch of jumps. You need abs for those!”

The varsity squad is made up of nine seniors and four juniors. The JV and freshman squads total another 13 members. Some will cheer for both football and basketball seasons, while those that participate in a fall or winter sport will cheer during the season they are not competing. Currently, one team member is on the cross country team and one plays soccer, but they will cheer in the winter. Two of the freshmen will participate in a winter sport (gymnastics, swimming) instead of cheering.
“We are senior-heavy, but it is the most skilled group we’ve had in a long time,” Hilliard said. “We play on the girls’ strengths. We have a couple that are good fliers. We have a couple that can make up a dance in 20 minutes. We have girls like Makena that can do everything – flier, bases, spotters. She catches on quickly and is then able to teach.

“In our sport, we need to be synchronized 100 percent of the time. In another sport if you miss your assignment, there might be somebody else to make up for that. When these girls are doing things that are supposed to be synchronized, if one person is off, it stands out. We don’t have an opponent, but we mix things up and don’t do the same things game to game.”

Heisler added, “If we have a girl out sick, we have to come up with something completely new. We don’t have an extra that can just jump in. The girls are flexible in that they can do more than one thing.”

So what’s in it for the coaches?

“I like seeing the girls achieve their goals,” Heisler said.

“I just like working with teenagers,” commented Hilliard. “They are unique. They can be sassy, but they can be respectful. As a former parent of a cheerleader and a judge for many years, I like giving back to them and make sure they have a fun experience with it too.”

The fall cheer team is made up of seniors Annalise Barden, Hailey Boal, Rachel Bockman, Makena Carmichael, Zailey Hess, Jessica Johnson, Maddie Miller, Rylee Tostevin, and Breanna Wright. Juniors include Fernanda Cortes, Alexa Orozco, Anna Bush, Lyndsey Price, and Lakeland Strain. Sophomores are Chloe Garner, Grace Hinderlider, Jocelyn Sieh, and Alivia Simpson and the freshmen are Ella Bottorff, Dorothy Karris, Emilee Rodriguez, Kelsey Vanlue, Emma Warren, Aumrie Weiss, and Perla Zanabria.