Full of spirit
Cheerleading season lasts throughout school year and into the summer
Practicing at 6 a.m. in the summer. Cramming in homework after late-night away games and meets. Risking bodily injury for the team. Training throughout the year.
Like other athletes, the Tonganoxie High School cheerleaders deal with these challenges and more.
"It's a sport just like everything else, and it doesn't stop," said Sandy Saultz, THS cheerleading sponsor.
People may not realize the commitment cheerleaders and their parents make to cheerleading, which has a season that spans the entire year, said Saultz, who coaches the team with Merri Samuels.
The squad practices every day after school, except on days when there's a game or meet. During the summer, the cheerleaders practice from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. five days a week. They take two weeks off each summer and cheer for every sport except track.
The cheerleaders dedicate more time than that though, Saultz said, because they sometimes ask to extend practice to improve a routine, especially during camp and exhibition preparation.
The squad also spends its time raising money to pay for summer camp registration fees, clothing and accessories, including shoes, pompons and practice outfits.
It costs more than $500 a year for each cheerleader to participate, Saultz said.
The squad depends on the sales of candles, candy and Sonic discount cards to help with the costs. If the squad doesn't raise enough money to pay for the supplies and fees, the students and their families make up the difference.
"It's definitely a commitment from these girls and their parents," Saultz said. "Without their parents we wouldn't have these girls, because they know the expense and the time. That makes the difference."
Like the sports they cheer for, cheerleading can also be dangerous.
A January report in the journal, "Pediatrics," reported that 208,800 children ages 5 to 18 who suffered cheerleading injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms between 1990 and 2002. According to the article, most were treated and released and didn't require hospitalization.
Saultz said that since a cheerleader suffered a leg injury in 2000, there hadn't been any serious injuries to THS cheerleaders. However, she said, a visiting cheerleader from Immaculata High School suffered a concussion last year during a basketball game at THS.
Camp is an important training tool, Saultz said, because it teaches the cheerleaders how to perform stunts safely.
Although cheerleading can be time-consuming and dangerous, the cheerleaders said the friendships and bonds the sport fostered made it worthwhile.
"If I'm having a bad day, I can call any one of these girls, and they'll talk to me about what's wrong," said sophomore Jessica Derzinski. "I think I like it because it does take up so much time. It keeps you out of doing the bad stuff.
"High school is so involved with drugs and alcohol and drinking. The fact that it takes so much time, it just keeps you in the good stuff."
Sophomore Elise Drennan said cheering also helped her in other aspects of her life.
"I think the best thing about cheerleading is that it builds up your self-confidence," Drennan said. "It helps you become more sure of yourself, and it makes you become better at other things.
"It makes you be able to adjust your time to get homework in, to be with your friends, and you make really good friends."
The squad members also spend time together when they're not cheering on the Chieftains. The cheerleaders have social get-togethers throughout the year and they usually gather before games and meets.
The cheerleaders said summer camp was one of the best times of the year because they could concentrate on their skills and friendships without the demands of homework and schedules.
At camp last summer, the squad won the Herkie Award, which celebrates teamwork. The squad also received the Spirit Award in January at the Mill Valley Exhibition after performing a dance, cheering and stunts combination routine.
Each year, cheerleading tryouts are held in mid-March.
Co-captain and sophomore Michelle Lindsay said she would try out again because she had finally found her niche in cheerleading.
"It changed who I am," Lindsay said. "Before high school cheerleading, I didn't have very many friends. I just wasn't myself.
"I wasn't good at the sports that everyone expects you to be good at like basketball, soccer, track. And I tried all that. But when I tried cheerleading, I actually found something I was good at, and I actually found myself. I can be comfortable around these people and be who I am."