When senior Lilly Horton and sophomore Megan Packel came to East their respective freshman years, they were both making the transition from small Catholic schools to a large public high school. They both joined cheer to make friends and get involved in their new school, but they also found that while making friends with other cheerleaders in their grade came relatively easy, connecting with the upperclassmen on cheer was difficult.
“My freshman year, I was terrified to be near any of the seniors,” Horton said.
This year, however, the girls on the team feel like they are much more connected. Changing dynamics within cheer families and the cheer class have both contributed to this. According to Packel, this year’s seniors have been a driving force behind the new bonding on the team.
“[The seniors] said they wanted it to be more friendly and more inviting,” Packel said. “I think that was one of their main goals this year was to get everyone talking [to each other].”
Each senior heads one of the eight cheer families. Although there have been cheer families in the past, head coach Mallory Gaunce believes that they have been especially effective at bonding the girls this year.
The senior “moms” are responsible for answering the questions of underclassmen, making sure that their “daughters” have rides to activities or carrying around an extra bow in case someone forgets. Some families go out for Winstead’s after football games and all of the families will participate in the upcoming cheer scavenger hunt. Each family dresses up in different themed costumes and Horton says it’s always been a good opportunity for cheer bonding.
Gaunce sees the positive effects of the friendships during practice and finds that the cohesiveness of the team allows them to work on some more advanced stunts and tumbling passes such as flips, back-overs and front walk-overs.
Last year the cheer program had a class period for the competition team, but this year they added underclassmen to the class, increasing the diversity of skill and talent in the class.
Gaunce believes that having the class holds the girls to a higher standard when it comes to participation.
“If one girl is missing from class, you can’t do that stunt and you can’t do that part of the routine,” Gaunce said. ”They know that it is really a team thing and you can’t substitute someone else in.”
This year, class time is no longer spent practicing game-day cheering. Instead they focus on preparing for competitions and the bi-weekly after school practices are then devoted to working on sideline cheering. This means that the girls get the opportunity to bond with the girls in both their grade, stunt groups, squad and competition team.
“Bonding helps [the team dynamic] because you have to be able to trust each other, especially when you are throwing people around in the air,” Gaunce said. “If you are responsible for catching someone by just their feet in the middle of the air, she has to be able to trust that you will catch her.”