Cheerleading is a year-round duty
Tonganoxie High cheerleaders gathered last week at the home of sponsor Sandy Saultz.
The squad ordered pizza and brought snacks. They watched movies and, of course, exchanged gifts.
It's a tradition the group started a few years ago.
The gatherings, Saultz said, provide more opportunity for the girls to bond.
It also gives the group some time to unwind.
Unlike other teams at THS, the cheer squad's season doesn't span two or three months. For the cheerleaders, it's more like year-round.
Each spring, tryouts are held.
When members are picked, they then start in for the next "year" right away. Whether they're practicing routines or raising money, the squad stays busy.
In the spring, the team starts on its candy sale fund-raiser. Then comes the summer and likely a car wash at Sonic. And, for the last two years, the Winter Royalty Dance.
"Sonic has been really great for letting us raise money at the last minute," Saultz said. "Sonic's been a wonderful help."
Money has helped fund trips to cheerleading camps in the summer, poster material for signs in the high school and uniforms, according to sponsor Merri Samuels.
"You have to have money for that," Samuels said.
Busy, busy, busy
In November, Kim Edwards became a sponsor, increasing the squad's number to three.
That has helped Samuels and Saultz. The three sponsors split up duties for practices and sporting events. Through the fall and winter sports seasons, the cheerleaders practice from 3:20 p.m. to 5 p.m. on days when they don't have a game or match to attend.
"We try to alternate, but you're looking at two to three times a week and you don't count the times you just go to go," Saultz said. "It's definitely time-consuming."
During the summer, it often starts up about the time the rooster decides to crow in the morning.
That's when the squad usually practices from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., depending on everyone's work schedules.
"It's not very fun," Saultz said.
Along with the annual camp, THS cheerleaders also practice in the summer for a routine in the Leavenworth County Fair Parade.
Off to camp
In the past few years, the Chieftain cheerleaders have traveled to Emporia, the Lake of the Ozarks (Mo.) and Springfield, Mo., for National Cheerleading Association camps.
Last summer at Springfield, the Chieftains earned five blue ribbons and a red. Blue is the highest ribbon a squad can receive. Ribbons can be earned each day of the camp. Roughly 20 squads joined Tonganoxie at the camp.
One Chieftain cheerleader, senior Ashlee Murphy, was named an all-American for the second consecutive year. Overall, Tonganoxie had five girls earn nominations for all-American.
"It's pretty select," Samuels said of Murphy's honor.
Murphy's ability to tumble never hurts.
"Ashlee's the only one who tumbles (on the squad)," Samuels said. "That's one thing that helps her."
Saultz, who is in her fourth year as a sponsor, said the camps are important for the squad.
"I felt like there wasn't enough leadership," Saultz said about when she first started as a sponsor. "Going to camp seems to build a bond between them each year."
Preparing for the tournament
The Tonganoxie Invitational basketball tournament has plenty of tradition and history, but cheerleading will take center-stage between games Jan. 17-21.
Samuels said five squads thus far will be performing. Because Kansas State High School Activities Association rules don't allow squads to compete in such a capacity, the routines will be referred to as exhibitions. Squads can perform for a maximum of five minutes with dancing, cheering and stunting.
This marks the third year in which squads from tournament schools have performed at the invitational.
"That's a big deal," Merri Samuels said. "They started learning the dance after Thanksgiving. That's pretty much what they've been practicing on."
This year's squad has 13 members. During Saultz' tenure, the group has had as few as eight members and as many as 16.
"We Iike a bigger squad definitely," Saultz said.
Saultz also appreciates seeing the squad perform at events year-round. She said the squad doesn't get the same recognition as the football or basketball teams, but she hopes people realize the amount of work -- year-round -- that goes into participating with the Chieftain cheerleaders.
"It's not the world, but it is to them," Saultz said.