As cheer practice begins, all of the cheerleaders stop talking and get prepared for the stunts, cheers and chants they will be learning. New head cheer coach Jake Polzin shows them how to do a stunt they have never seen before involving flips, twists and tosses. On the first attempt they crash to the ground, but with Polzin’s encouragement, the cheerleaders try it again. By the end of the two-hour practice they are hitting it perfectly each time.
This year the cheer-leading program is doing things differently than before. Polzin wants to show the school that cheer-leading isn’t just about shaking their pom poms and yelling “Lancers, show us how you shake that thing!”
When Polzin stepped in, he had a head full of new ideas, like making the cheerleaders have practice every day for two hours after school and teaching them complicated stunts and tumbling routines. Since they had never had a coach like this before, the reactions to the changes varied between excited and nervous.
“I’m just really excited and very optimistic about it, I feel like we are all moving in the right direction,” varsity captain Maggie Thomas said.
Over the summer, the cheer squads had practice almost every day for three weeks, where they would improve their skills and hope to get better before they went to NCA cheer camp.
NCA cheer camp is a four-day camp in the beginning of August, where the cheerleaders put togetherperformances and compete against other schools in the Shawnee Mission School District.
When East swept a whole category of awards they knew that all of the hours of practices had paid off.
“It was definitely one of my best camp experiences,” Thomas said. “Other schools might have rolled their eyes that East won because of the way we have been known but we really worked hard and everyone put in a lot of effort.”
Even the parents in the stands at cheer camp noticed the difference in East’s technique when the squads got a roar of applause after they hit all of their stunts and motions perfectly.
“I can’t remember the last time an SME cheer squad had every level win the category – it’s never happened.” Principal, Karl Krawitz said, “They were crisp, they were sharp, and that included all the way down to the Freshman too. I was impressed.”
The success at cheer camp helped give the cheerleaders a new perspective on all of the changes for the upcoming season. Not only has Polzin taught them new skills but he has told the squads that they are worth something.
“He’s changed our attitudes to knowing this is a sport, and if we work hard we will get the goals we want.” Thomas said.
At the pep assembly on Thursday, August 25th the cheerleaders showed off all of the new improvements they’ve made to the squad during their routine.
“You can’t help but act positive when you see the cheerleaders flipping and twisting and doing all kinds of fun stuff,” Polzin said.
Even people who weren’t on the team last year have noticed how much better the squads have gotten.
“They have amazing stunts and they always look sharp, but most of all they look really happy and energized.” Freshman cheerleader Mackenzie Sweat said.
If the squad members don’t know all of the cheers perfectly, they will be benched for their first game. If they are off task, messing around, or if they drop a girl during stunting they are forced to condition, which is where they do suicide runs, V-up sit ups, push ups and other drills.
“One day we had to do leap frog jumps; I couldn’t go upstairs or sit in a chair for two days because I was so sore.” Thomas said. “It definitely opened our eyes though because we’ve never had to do anything like that before.”
The one thing that helps the cheerleaders get through the conditioning without complaining is knowing that they will be getting better, and if they are better, then the crowds at the games will actually want to watch them and cheer along with them.
“I’m just really excited and very optimistic.” Thomas said,” I feel like we are all moving in the right direction and I feel like everyone has a positive attitude. I think the whole program as a whole is going to grow and become cooler at east rather than just the girls who didn’t make a different team so they did cheer-leading.”
Not only have the East cheer teams improved skill wise, but their commitment to the team has improved as well.
“The cheerleaders used to get made fun of,” Varsity cheerleader Caroline Savage said. “I think it’s time for change and time for a new reputation.”