Boasting 13 members this season, the Troy High School cheer squad is the largest it has been in years, and eager to share their spirit with everyone.
In her fifth year, Cheer Advisor Jen Bonifas said she has never had this large of a squad before.
She isn't sure what spurred the growth in the squad this season. In past seasons, the squad has averaged around five members.
Yet, from the cheerleaders to Bonifas, the general consensus seems to be that they would be happy if they had even more cheerleaders.
“It's really fun, and I think more people should try it,” said senior Orenda “Ren” Derry.
Yet, Derry — who is in her third season as a Trojan cheerleader — said that she hesitated to come out for cheer at first.
She recalled getting a note from a friend during her sophomore year, asking if she wanted to come out for the squad. Having done cheer when she was younger, Derry remembered hating it, and wanted nothing to do with it.
“But, they asked me very nicely to join, and I would've felt bad to say no,” she said. The first practice wasn't great, but the squad grew on her.
For Derry, cheer gets her some physical activity in a way she can enjoy, she said.
She was a tennis player, but while she liked practice, Derry said she didn't like the matches.
“The games are really long, early in the morning usually, so that might be it,” Derry quipped. “But this sport is the one sport that I actually like.”
Each cheerleader expressed a unique view of how cheerleading compares to sports such as volleyball or basketball, but they were in agreement over how physically taxing it can be.
While some of the cheers and routines they do may not be exhausting over a short period, after several hours, the repetitive motion adds up, Derry said.
Sophomore Kyran Kelso said she has done cheer for about five years altogether, including three when she was younger and her mom coached a squad.
Compared to volleyball — her sport of choice in the fall — cheerleading isn't nearly as physically taxing, she said. Still, cheer requires them to stay active for long periods.
Sophomore Regina Milde — another volleyball player — said that cheer can be “right up there” with volleyball.
“You work different areas of your body for it,” she said.
Cheer requires endurance in her legs for long periods of “ponying” and the strength to lift someone else and hold them steady, she said.
Bonifas said that she sees cheer as a way to celebrate and support school spirit. But there's also a spirit to the squad itself that she promotes.
“I want to see as many kids as I can get involved,” she said.
With low numbers in the past, there haven't been tryouts for cheer in some time, but Bonifas said she doesn't intend to change that as more students come out for cheer squad.
She wants cheerleading to be an activity that is welcoming to the students who aren't drawn to other activities, Bonifas said. It gives them something to be a part of and a place to belong, regardless of what else may be happening in the rest of their lives.
Bonifas said she has even seen involvement in cheer change the direction a student's life was taking outside of school.
“It's kind of nice to see that. It gives them something positive,” she said.
Involvement in an activity such as cheer may offer benefits even to students who aren't in trouble or heading down a bad path.
Derry said that before she came out for cheer, she was more shy. She recalled struggling with self esteem when she was in her sophomore year.
“I had a jacket that I would always wear, and I liked to pretend nobody could see me if I was wearing that jacket,” she said.
Derry said that being out in front of the crowds in a cheerleading uniform her first time was terrifying, but that quickly passed. And being in cheer has helped to draw her out of her shell.
In her first season ever as a cheerleader, Milde said she was nervous at first getting out in front of the crowds.
Though she has done plays and does not mind the audience there, cheering brings in a different aspect, she said.
“When I'm acting, I'm not me. I'm a completely different person,” she said. “When I'm cheering, I am me. I am up there.”
But Milde said that getting through the nerves has been worth it.
“It's a lot of fun doing it and seeing the crowd's reaction,” she said. “It's just fun to see that you're getting them pumped up, which is helping the players.”
“Usually everybody's really nice and it's just a fun thing to do — being with cheer-ful people,” Kelso said.
“I like everybody that we have right now,” Kelso said. “Everybody gets along pretty well.”
While the cheerleaders hang out together at school and outside, there's still no sense of cheer having a “clique” or being exclusive, Kelso said. “No, definitely not. If we were like that, we probably wouldn't have any cheerleaders.”
“I think it's a really fun community, and if anybody else wants to join, it'd be really appreciated,” Kelso said.
After Milde was injured on her third day of volleyball practice last season, she still wanted to find an activity to be part of.
Not a basketball player, Milde decided to try cheer.
“They're pretty excited to have more people join the team,” Milde said of her experience joining the cheer squad.
Kelso said that the squad members have been happy with the influx of new cheerleaders, and no one seems to mind even when they have to go back over a routine they already know.
“It gives us more practice anyway, to help them,” she said.
Bonifas said that, for some new members, the first step is just teaching them rhythm. But, even if it takes a lot to get them there, they get them there.
Bonifas said that she would like to expand what the cheer squad does, such as having them involved with volunteering or fundraising over the summer. Currently, there are no official activities for the cheer squad outside of fall and winter sports seasons.
Having more cheerleaders has also given them the opportunity to expand their routines, she said. Previously, they didn't have enough people to do stunts such as pyramid formations.
And having that as an added aspect has also gotten the cheerleaders interested in improving their conditioning. Bonifas said that she has had the girls approach her about getting into the weight room to work on their lifting strength.
While her plans for more cheer activites aren't past the idea phase yet, Bonifas said she is excited to grow the program and continue providing a positive experience for her students.