Flying high: Mount Si cheer team breaking myths, taking awards

Call it a spirited discussion. Thirty uniformed Mount Si High School cheerleaders gather in a circle on the gym floor, weighing a matter of some importance: the theme of the team's planned appearance in the June 25 Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon.

The school year is coming to an end, but things are just winding up for the newly formed 2011-12 varsity squad, which will be active for 11 months out of the coming year. The upcoming marathon introduces new varsity members to the rigors of competition. Now, they just have to decide between a blue-wigged impersonation of pop singer Katy Perry, or a blue-faced march as the Blue Man Group, complete with blue swim caps and thunder sticks.

Team co-captain Meg Kribanec, soon to be a senior, can't wait for the big day.

"It's a great time to bond," she said. The girls are kept up late into the night with excitement, head into the city at the crack of dawn, perform for hours, then go home to crash.

For cheerleaders, it's hardly a sleepy summer, but Kribanec believes all the hard work pays off.

"We maintain all of the skills we work so hard for," she said. "When we get to competition season, the girls already know what it's like to have activity after activity."

Dramatic growth

Mount Si High School's cheer program has dramatically stepped up its tempo of accomplishments in the last few years under four-year coach Jessii Stevens. Cheerleaders used to be booed at assemblies before she arrived, but Stevens has since increased the pride and intensity, pushing them to broaden their involvement at school while raising loftier stunting goals.

The results have led to Mount Si's second-place win at the Washington Cheerleading State Championship this year, with the main Red Team taking second in the medium varsity category and the new Silver Team, a sideline cheering team, taking second for small non-tumbling varsity category. The team now has its sights set on national competition.

Mount Si cheerleaders are also making deeper inroads into the community. Last month, the group held a benefit drive for the Eastside Baby Corner, bringing in hundreds of needed items and $400 cash in the largest single donation the charity had ever seen.

"Not only do we initiate a lot of community engagement—we love doing parades—we like being involved," said Stevens, who last year was awarded a spot on Cheer Ltd.'s 30 Under 30 list, recognizing young, up-and-coming coaches.

To Stevens, cheerleading is many things: a spirit activity, an athletic pursuit.

"We also need to be leaders in our community," she said.

Her team hosts mini-cheer camp twice a year for young children and volunteers for the Tanner Jeans Memorial Foundation, Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation, YMCA and the Fall City Days Fun Run. This year, the girls will break into smaller groups to assist a charity of their choice as volunteers.

At school, the squad cheers for varsity football, boys and girls basketball, and wrestling, and cheerleaders make a point of supporting other teams through attendance at their games. Working with ASB, they make treat bags and signs for teams, perform at assemblies and halftime shows, also helping with the freshman lock-in event.

That's in addition to weekly practices that include performing stunts, jumps, dancing and cheers, as well as conditioning exercises. Involvement can take cheerleaders places—some varsity members have gone on to cheer in college or receive scholarships or stipends—but mostly, it's a way to be involved and athletic.

Breaking cheer myths

The reality of the Mount Si cheer team busts a lot of old cheerleader myths.

What are those myths? "We're not athletic; we're not really a sport; we don't ever get hurt," said co-captain Chloe Villanueva. "Realistically, we work just as hard, if not harder, than any other team. We practice to perform. We have to look happy and excited and energetic, even if we're dying."

The team sets weekly goals, and to build stamina, runs a timed mile every two weeks.

"Watch a typical practice," Stevens said. "There's stunting, tumbling, sweating."

Kribanec said the team brings pride to its school. Cheering on groups like the girls tennis team "allows them and all the other sports to know we care about them," she said.

Voicing her support for a Blue Man costume in the upcoming marathon, eighth grader Danielle Kraycik was one of only three future freshmen to make the varsity team cut. She's in it for  the competition, and knows she'd be bored without cheer.

The same goes for Villanueva, who said she'd be different person—less supported, less fit—without her teammates.

"I don't think anything fits me as well as cheer does," she said.

"It was amazing to have two teams not only go to state, but to take second place," Kribanec said. Not only does that show their coach's strengths, but also the dedication of every team member, she said.

With more practices and help from a newly added assistant coach Travis Anderson—funded by a grant from the Tanner Jeans Foundation—the team is rapidly learning advanced stunt techniques.

"Now, we're moving so fast," Villanueva said.

Flying high

During stunting practice, 'flyer' Dana Pecora gets hoisted five feet into the air by teammates Megan Ferkovich, Kim Anderson and Hailey Barrett, balancing atop their palms.

Control is important in the maneuver, as is trust, when Pecora drops into their arms, knowing she won't hit the ground.

"As long as the flyer does what she's supposed to, we can handle it," Ferkovich said.

"I'm a daredevil," Pecora explains. "I trust my bases 100 percemt. They're like my family. They know I wouldn't drop them."

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