Gimme an N: Noisy but nice. That’s what it is like when 2,000 teen-agers compete to see who is best at yelling and smiling at the same time. Pep squads from 120 high schools from Fresno to San Diego are gathering this weekend at Magic Mountain in Valencia for the 10th annual Southern California High School Cheerleading Championships. “Cheerleading’s made me friendlier,” said a smiling Cheryl Navarro, 16, of Paramount High School in Paramount as she caught her breath Saturday after her team’s performance.
Gimme an E: Equality and energy both had places on 17-year-old Rochelle Natividad’s Monroe High School cheerleading squad. The 12-member Sepulveda team includes a Korean, a Vietnamese, a Thai, a Filipino and a Hispanic along with blacks and whites. The team mascot, Joey Ochoa, 18, has cerebral palsy. The cheerleaders sometimes do routines that include jumping from the back of Ochoa’s wheelchair. “It gives you a good feeling to do what we do,” Natividad said.
Gimme an R: Resumes were in the backs of some cheerleaders’ minds on Saturday. Shana Eknoian, 18, of Bakersfield’s North High School, said that being on the squad will help her reach her goal of becoming a fashion merchandiser. “It shows I have confidence to go out before crowds and give them what they want.” Added Kacy Baik, 16, of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles: “The resume will look good with cheerleading on it. I want to go to a good college, like Stanford or Berkeley, and become an attorney.”
Gimme a V: Venturesome boys made up about 10% of Saturday’s competitors. Matt Thompson, 17, endured razzing to join the Canoga Park High School pep squad. “Guys tease you. There’s a lot of peer pressure,” said Thompson, who also plays football for his school. “People think it’s a sissy sport, but I don’t believe it at all. I got kidded a lot,” agreed Tyler Isaacson, 16, of Carpinteria High School near Santa Barbara. Acknowledged Marcus Kellerman, 17, of Escondido High School in Escondido: “People at first called us wimps.” It’s worth it, though, said George Comstock, 17, of Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga. “At cheerleading camp there were 20 guys and 3,000 girls. It was heaven.”
Gimme an O: Ouch was the buzzword for Debra Flahive, 15, and others from Granite Hills High School in El Cajon. “I dislocated my shoulder practicing cheers on a Monday, but I knew we had a big competition on Wednesday so I didn’t go to the doctor until Thursday morning,” she said. “This was back in November. My shoulder still bothers me. We have another injured girl who’s awaiting surgery.”
Gimme a U: Unity was the prayer asked Saturday by most pep squads--at least those whose cheerleaders formed bouncy pyramids to the pounding beat of songs like “Robo Cop” by the Sleeze Boyz before a panel of judges. “You have to learn to rely on other people,” Nicole Merritt, 18, of Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, said earnestly. “You can get hurt if they let you down. Trust is a valuable thing you learn in cheerleading.”
Gimme an S: Sentimentality was taking hold of some cheerleaders. But not others. “I’ll remember my cheerleading days as like being in a family. The girls were like my sisters,” said Shawn Hermosilla, 17, who will graduate this spring from Hanford High School in Kings County. Countered Erin Beltran, 17, of San Clemente High School: “When I think of cheerleading 20 years from now, I’ll remember it as the days when I was young and skinny and could wear short skirts.”
What does it spell? N-E-R-V-O-U-S. And that’s the way Saturday’s competitors will remain until the contest’s semifinal judging ends today and the top 36 varsity and junior varsity cheerleadering squads are announced. Those teams will return to compete in the finals next Saturday for $1,000 in prizes and trophies.
The winners will undoubtedly jump for joy.