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Raising spirits! Cheerleading changes drastically over the years

by JONAH ROSENBLUM | RECORD-COURIER REPORTER Published: August 31, 2016 1:00 AM

When Connie Wells was a cheerleader in the 1980s -- even when she started as a cheerleading coach 17 years ago -- the sport was vastly different.

"We mostly made signs, practiced maybe twice a week for a couple of hours, and we cheered at a football game or a basketball game," Wells said.

Since then, the Aurora High cheerleading coach said cheerleading has transformed. Her squad, like others in the area, practices every day of the week all year.

"It's not a three-month-a-year activity, it's a 12-month-a-year sport," Wells said. "I've watched this activity evolve into a sport."

It's a competitive sport, too. When Renee Manning took the head cheerleading job at Kent Roosevelt, she told then-athletic director Ernie Rutzky that she would give it "150 percent" -- and so would her girls.

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"If you're going to do it, you're going to do it right and you're going to be the best," Manning explained.

Where cheerleading has evolved, however, its reputation has not always followed.

While multiple coaches, including Manning, noted the extensive support they get from their schools and their school administrations, the general public doesn't always get it.

"People have no clue what time goes into this sport," said Paula Doepel, cheerleading coach at Field High. "People think they just go out there and shake some pom-poms. These girls work really, really hard."

"They just think that we go on Friday nights and cheer and it's no biggie," said Brittany Emery, a senior cheerleader at Field. "In reality, we practice every single day of the week just like any other sport."

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In some ways, cheerleading has moved beyond many sports in that it goes all year long. Tryouts are in the spring, teams work out in the summer, fall and winter are devoted to football and basketball and competition season starts in winter and extends into spring.

AT AURORA and Field, work starts right after tryouts in April. The Greenmen start conditioning twice a week in May. By June, the squad is in five mornings a week for two hours apiece.

The girls get some time off in July to take family trips, but in August they're once again working out five days a week.

At Kent Roosevelt, the squad gets off to an even more frenetic pace, as the Rough Riders prepare to perform at the Kent Heritage Festival around July 4.

Kent Heritage Festival is closely followed by cheer camp, another activity that requires extensive preparation.

The Aurora girls have practice Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with games on Friday nights. Many also partake in the competition squad practice Wednesday, a separate squad that features plenty of overlap.

In September, the team has a 10-hour weekend, five hours a day, where the girls create and learn all of their cheers for the year.

Wednesday, the cheerleaders join the football team for the team meal. Junior varsity and varsity cheerleaders show up Friday, with the JVs helping with face painting and other activities at the stadium.

The junior varsity cheerleaders then return the next morning for the junior varsity game.

In addition to their performances on the field and competition season, cheerleaders do a lot of work outside of the spotlight.

At Aurora, there's a "big sister-little sister" program, where varsity cheerleaders mentor the JVs, as well as gifts for the senior football players. Greenmen cheerleaders also hang signs throughout the school in an attempt "to keep the school spirit positive," Wells explained.

"I really stress to the girls that cheerleading is about more than just action and jumping," she said. "It's an attitude and how you're presenting yourself."

Still, all this work isn't always appreciated.

"There always have been people -- and there always will be people -- who will make fun of or push cheerleading aside," Wells said. "I don't think they really have an idea of the hours the girls put in."

Email: jrosenblum@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4193

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