We all know the stereotype: The cute and popular girl, the peppy outfit, the perpetual smile.
There is not much room for variation in the image of the cheerleader. That image, however, fails to stand up in Friday Harbor High School: The nine-girl squad achieves levels of physical and mental ability that set them far apart from stereotype.
The physical demands of the activity can be judged by the fact that their current coach taught wrestling for 17 years. In comparison, Coach Deanna Banry says the efforts of wrestling pale in the face of cheerleading.”I told my husband the other day this is so much more work.”
“These girls work out, and they work out hard,” says Banry, describing the five day a week, two hour fitness schedule. “It’s not just cheering … From the time we get in there, we get serious.”
To make the move from wrestling coach to cheer coach, Banry had to gain an extra certification to coach the girls in stunts. Banry says she didn’t have to get that to coordinate simple cheers, but to move into gymnastics required an extra stunt qualification. It was worth it, as Banry describes the squad as “very stunty.”
Not satisfied with simple moves, the girls have perfected the back handspring, basket toss, bow and arrow, cartwheel, cradle, elevator, extension, fall back, liberty, round-off, and tumbling.
The physical efforts of training are mirrored in the intensity of the sports schedule. The squad travels with the varsity football team — in separate cars this year, due to the size of the team — to cheer every game. Additionally, they cheer all the home games.
The amount of time it takes to train, travel and cheer means that being a member of the squad, like any other sports team, requires a certain level of commitment.
Banry speaks highly of the girls’ efforts and maturity.
“This is a really good group of girls. They communicate,” she says, adding that cliques and adolescent politics have no place on the squad. Banry says the girls get all the solidarity, teamwork and training of competitive sport, in a non-competitive environment.
The high level of activity and involvement without competitiveness is something squad Captain Kirsten Crichton loves about cheer.
“I like that it’s not a competitive sport, and I like that we are responsbile for a lot of the spirit part of school, pumping up the crowd and football team.”
In addition to the energy they bring to the games, the squad has other responsibilities. Their efforts do not stop at training and cheering.
“The squad is kind of the liaison between the community and the sports team,” Banry says. The girls are called upon for sports publicity within the school, to sell tickets for events in the community, and to participate as well.
Co-captain Lindsey Banry says the “community involvement” is a big part of being on the squad.
Coach Banry says the girls are very aware that they represent the school — and that this sense of communication and responsibility means that cheer has an extra educative value.
There may be outfits and there may be smiles, but that is not the whole story of the Friday Harbor cheerleaders.