Cheer squad rallies fundraising to compete at regionals

Who cheers on the cheer squad? A weekend that began with disappointment turned into determination and the will to beat defeat.

As the Wrangell High School boys and girls varsity basketball teams were scheduled to go to Juneau to compete this week, so too was the cheer squad. But there weren't enough funds to cover the trip. That is, until the squad and community jumped into action.

"We're going (to regionals)," said cheer coach Stephanie Cartwright last Saturday. "Between the parents and me ... about 20 minutes ago, we got it covered so we can still (go). I didn't think it was going to happen."

All five members and their coach will travel to Juneau to compete against four other teams in the 2A Division with the funds that were raised and help from a $1,500 health and welfare grant from the Wrangell Cooperative Association.

Cartwright said her squad will compete against Petersburg, Haines, Metlakatla and Craig. It doesn't matter how many members are on a squad, as each team is judged on a point system.

From the time the clock starts on the girls basketball team's first game at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday until the team leaves the court, the cheer squad is being judged, Cartwright said. And if not that game, then the game on Friday.

"They're judged on their pre-game, so their dances on the sidelines with pep band, how well they work with pep band, how well they work with the cheer squad that's cheering against them, if they take turns during time-outs, they get judged for quarter cheers, halftime performances and all their sidelines," she said.

The squad will be judged during either the Wednesday or Friday games, but for two team members, they'll be judged the minute they get to Thunder Mountain High School until they leave on Saturday as part of the all-tournament competition.

"I nominate who I want, and all the coaches do (from their squads)," Cartwright said. "Then all the cheer coaches get together and we pick 12 who we think were the best out of all cheer squads, and that's who gets to compete in all-tournament."

Cartwright's picks this year are cheer captain Alisha Armstrong and Brodie Gardner, who won all-tournament last year.

Unlike other sports that last a few weeks during the school year, cheer training begins in fall, typically in October, and lasts until the end of basketball season. This year's squad members, Gardner, Armstrong, Cassady Cowan, Lily Younce and Nate Rooney, had to memorize 32 sideline cheers, 14 mini-dances, the school song and a two-and-a-half-minute dance routine.

The dances require coordination, accuracy and strength, all while keeping smiles on their faces and being as flawless as possible.

Cross-training has been a benefit for Younce, a junior, who has been a cheerleader since her freshman year, and has competed in wrestling since she was in kindergarten.

"(Wrestling has helped) definitely because of the strength when we're doing stunts. It helps," Younce said. "Wrestling is going to be my senior project. I'm going to help coach Carney with the middle school wrestlers."

Armstrong has been in cheer since her freshman year as well and thrives in the competition.

"I love everything about it. It was made for me," she said. In fact, she's been waiting since she was a toddler to compete in high school.

"(Alisha's) the reason I'm still coaching," Cartwright said. "I promised that 3-year-old I'd be her high school cheer coach when she got here and I'm still here. I've coached most of her (six) siblings."

The squad practices routines for a few hours every weeknight and had planned to practice through the weekend right up until Tuesday when they would leave for regionals. The anticipated cancellation of their trip forced them to turn Saturday's practice into an exhibition for friends and family of what they had learned throughout the season.

Those plans changed once again when they got the funds and travel was back on. Though their families were still in attendance on Saturday, it was treated as a practice, running through routines and fine tuning the moves.

"We're very, very proud of her. She's worked hard," said Billie Younce, Lily's mom, who watched Saturday's practice along with Joe, Lily's dad. Both parents have to work, so they won't be able to cheer on their daughter in Juneau, who's getting ready to bring it on.

"I was sad when I found out we couldn't go, but I'm excited now that we can," Lily Younce said. "I have to go home and pack now. Again."


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