There was a time when cheerleaders were as much a part of Friday night high school sports as the team. They would cheer no matter the weather or distance traveled, yelling in support of their school.
These days, at least in western Colorado, the sound of synchronous cheers from the sidelines is rare.
But the cheerleading tradition lives on at Hotchkiss High School, where coach Cristen Chermak demands dedication and hard work from her squad.
Chermak recalls when all four Delta schools had cheerleaders. "Back then it was huge," said Chermak, a 1978 graduate of HHS and a former cheerleader. The student body attended pre-game pep rallies and learned the cheers. A section of bleachers was reserved for the pep squad. At one time the school even took a pep bus to away games.
Today, Hotchkiss is the only high school in Delta County with cheerleaders.
That seems to be the trend. This year, no other cheerleaders attended the 52nd annual Hotchkiss Invitational wrestling tournament, where cheer competitions were once part of the tournament. At the annual Warrior Classic wrestling tournament in December, Hotchkiss was the only school with a cheer squad, and they weren't allowed on the mats to cheer. "It was sad to me," said Chermak, whose girls supported the team from the bleachers.
For Chermak, cheerleading is a tradition that still has a place in school sports. Chermak's younger sister, Lori Reed, was a cheerleader, and so was her mother, Norma Thomas.
But then, high schools didn't offer girls other sports options until her senior year. "You either were a cheerleader or part of the pep club," said Chermak, who started cheering in middle school. "It's a very different dynamic than when I was in school. I'm thrilled we have girls' sports, but it really pulled the rug out from underneath cheerleading."
According to Wikipedia, cheerleading started in the late 1800s, as a man's sport. This year marks the 90th anniversary of women's participation in cheerleading. Today's sport of cheerleading is called "spirit." Overseen by state activities associations, it's become highly competitive and incorporates sophisticated dance steps and gymnastics maneuvers. The Colorado High School Activities Association holds an annual state spirit competition in December. Hotchkiss also has a competitive spirit team. In 2011, they had their best season, placing second in class 3A competition (see full story in the Feb. 8, 2012, edition of the Delta County Independent).
The cheers themselves haven't changed much, said Thomas, a 1958 graduate of HHS. Many of today's cheers have been around for decades. But a few things have changed. Aside from doing the splits and cartwheels, there were no stunts.
In the late 1950s, Hotchkiss wore red and white uniforms made of corduroy, and sole-less moccasins on their feet. She also remembers Paonia's black uniforms with a red Thunderbird. "We had to make our uniforms," recalled Thomas. "Of course, nobody had any money back then."
And cheerleaders had no sponsors, "So we were basically on our own."
Virtually every girl was involved, in one way or another, in pep club. Cheerleader tryouts were held in front of the student body, which voted for its favorites. Cheerleaders rode the team bus to away games.
"All the schools had cheerleaders," said Thomas. Cheer competitions were common at games and meets. Paonia, with its creative, synchronized moves, had one of the best squads. "They were fantastic," she said.
Today, most visiting teams don't bring cheerleaders, said senior Rhiannon Hart, who joined the squad her sophomore year at the urging of friend and cheerleader, Natalee Blazer. While they don't mind being the lone cheer squad, "I think I would like to see more cheerleaders," said Hart. "It would be pretty fun to have cheer competitions."
It's that "We-can-out-cheer-you cheer," said Chermak. "It's so much more fun for them that there can be friendly competition."
The girls know more than 200 cheers, many of them sports-specific, and their accompanying movements. The girls require a basic knowledge of each sport so that they don't shout out an inappropriate cheer. That's a confidence-builder that can help them in school, said Chermak, a substitute teacher for HHS. "If you can remember 200 cheers and all the motions, don't tell me that you can't remember something for a history test."
Hotchkiss hasn't always had cheerleaders. For several years in the 1990s, the program ebbed as more girls began competing in basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer and track. Chermak doesn't begrudge that fact. Her daughters, Mandy and Megan, participate in sports.
After graduating, Chermak married HHS classmate and basketball player Rick Chermak, and they moved away. She returned in the early 1990s to find the program in sad shape. She took over in 1992 and 40 girls showed up for the first meeting. After telling them they would have to toe the line — no chewing gum, no leaning against the wall, standard uniforms — only six showed up for tryouts.
Chermak coached for three years before focusing on raising her daughters. With both daughters in high school, she returned to coaching three years ago. For most of the time in between, interest in cheering again waned. The student body no longer knew the cheers, and pep rallies had been all but forgotten.
But today's program is thriving, although the team is allowed to travel only within the district or to state playoffs. Chermak insists that her cheerleaders remain true to the spirit of the sport and be good ambassadors for the school. They greet visiting teams with a welcome cheer, and go out of their way to make them feel welcome. They've made sandwiches for hungry visiting wrestlers, and this fall bought visiting cheerleaders hot chocolate during a blustery, rainy football playoff game.
"It's not just about supporting teams, but about competition," said Chermak. "We don't go to competitions, mostly because I'm old-school and feel that our job is supporting these teams. That's historically how cheerleading started in the first place.
"Just because we have a competition against each other doesn't mean that we can't be friendly. It's about more than who's going to win or lose."
They cheer for the team, win or lose, said Hart. "It's pretty hard to try to keep people really spirited about it when we're losing, but I think that's what we're supposed to be here for, to help people cheer on our team. We're supposed to support them even when they're losing. That's our job."blog comments powered by Disqus