Lots to cheer about-no one to do it

Chronicle Staff

It was April two years ago, and the cheerleading season was coming to a close. The girls showed up expecting a normal practice, but instead Athletic Director Darlene Bible led them to the sports conference room overlooking Taper Gymnasium. The 16 girls were seated in the cramped room as Athletic Director Terry Barnum, Bible and cheerleading coach Ralinda Clayborn stood before them. Bible broke the news: because they wanted to take the cheerleading program in a “new direction,” Clayborn would be leaving.
“People were bawling,” Lauren Gaba ’08, a former cheerleader, said.  “Everyone was crying and defending Ralinda.” 
“We questioned what the new direction was, but they didn’t tell us,” cheerleader Janaye Walker said. “They just said it was a new direction.”
“Ralinda was concentrating on the competition area of cheerleading and our athletic administration did not see eye to eye with her on this and a few other things,” Bible said. In previous years, the team qualified to cheer at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and was invited to a New Year’s Day parade in Paris.  The team even appeared in a Nike/Finishline commercial in 2003.
Two years later, a squad that once included 15 to 20 girls has dwindled to nearly one third its size, with just six members from both the Upper and Middle Schools.  Evidently, the popularity of cheerleading has decreased.
“I respect them a lot because they perform well with only six cheerleaders,” varsity football player Jon Sebastian ’07 said. “But I think that if there were more of them, they would look a lot better.”
“I just wish more people at our school would join in so the cheerleading program could expand,” Brittany Richmond ’09 said.
Even the cheerleaders themselves believe that they would look better if they had more people and realize that some students do criticize the team for their small size, Walker said.
 “We didn’t have a coach when I quit,” Gaba said. “I wasn’t going to try out again because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.” Former cheerleaders Annie Dreyer ’08 and Taylor Lasley ’08 both quit for the same reason. Cicely Izadi, a former high school and professional cheerleader, was hired as the new head coach of the squad late in the summer of 2005.
“It’s moving in the direction I’d like it to, whether it looks like it or not,” Izadi said. “We have a really strong coaching basis and it’s starting to become my program now.”
 In an attempt to improve the squad, the girls attended cheer camp at UC Irvine this summer, adding to the more than $1,000 each member of the team is required to pay for uniforms, bags and accessories.
Bible has expressed interest in opening the cheerleading program to students in the seventh and eighth grades. She attributes the small size of the squad to the fact that students begin playing sports in the years before cheerleading is offered, and by the time they reach the ninth grade, they are already committed to other sports.
“I think the architecture for a successful program is in place,” Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas said. “We just need to build on it. Cheerleading is in its nascent stage.”
Barzdukas said he is not satisfied with the current state of cheerleading but that there would be rapid improvement if a program was put in at the Middle School.
“Kids interested in doing [cheerleading] in seventh and eighth grade funnel into other activities,” Barzdukas said. “Creative outlets at this school are so abundant.”
At this year’s spirit assembly, the team performed in Taper Gymnasium before the students and faculty, as they do each year during Spirit Week. However, they were also accompanied by four NBA cheerleaders.
“We thought that it would amp things up because it would have been a little awkward to dance with four girls,” cheerleader Ellie Bensinger ’09 said. Despite numerous efforts to improve the squad, there is some question as to whether or not the cheerleaders are essential to the school’s community.
“I don’t think we should have cheerleaders because there’s no point when there are only six,” basketball palyer Marco Sisto ’08 said. However, the squad expects 12 to 15 people to try out next year.
“Every team has up and down years,” Bible said. “I think the team is just down in numbers now, but will be healthier in the near future.”
“When you have six people, the routines just don’t look as dynamic, but finding people who will be that dedicated is tough,” Izadi added.
As five girls dressed in slacks or shorts step out to practice by the corner of Slavin Field, they begin stretching to upbeat music from a boom box, ready to practice their cheers and routines. They line up to run suicides, giggling as they jog from line to line.
“We’re not your typical high school squad,” Cherelle Patrick ’09 said. “But we’re working it out.”