On the sidelines of every football and basketball game, stands a group of girls, yelling loudly and getting the crowd excited. These girls are cheerleaders.
The cheerleaders are also involved with advocating school pride and in community work, including birthday parties, cheerleading camps, helping with the Webster Groves Hall of Fame and going to elementary schools to help with the children there.
“Cheerleaders provide extra sprit at basketball and football games. They encourage the crowd to get involved, and they provide positive role models,” said head Varsity coach Lizzie Thomson. “Cheerleaders are athletes because it requires athletic ability to be able to hold people in the air and throw them up in the air.”
The ability to either hold people in a specific position or throw them in the air is known as “stunting” and is a central part to cheerleading. Stunts can and have resulted in injuries, both at Webster and throughout the cheer world.
Another central part to cheerleading is the aspect of tumbling, which is basically gymnastic tricks and includes handsprings or lay-outs, which can also result in injuries.
“Our cheerleaders do stunts such as extensions, preps and even some pyramids,” said assistant varsity coach Aaron Foster. “When it comes to tumbling, some of the girls to do as much as round off, handspring, tuck and even standing back handsprings and standing back tucks. Luckily, this year hasn’t been affected by injuries. If there is an injury, there is a little set back just because certain stunts or pyramids can’t get worked on when they need it.”
“We’re very focused on safety,” said Thomson. “In camp, there’s a saying that we use, ‘perfection before progression’ and we have to perfect our stunts before we move on to more difficult ones. This greatly reduces injuries, along with the guidelines we have set up, like no stunting when the coaches aren’t there, and we always have to have spotters.”
“In my four years of being a cheerleader, the injuries have varied,” said Hornbeck. “We’ve had broken arms, concessions, cuts or scratches and black eyes.”
The cheerleading season includes both fall and winter seasons, so it’s a big commitment when one tries out for the team because they cheer for all three levels of football in the fall and cheer for all three levels of both women’s and men’s basketball in the winter.
“When you try out for the team, you have to consider the fact that you give up any fall or winter sports you want to do,” said sophomore Lonita Benson. “That was hard for me because I wanted to do basketball. I’m glad I did cheerleading though because it’s a lot of fun. We go to all the games, and it’s a great experience.”
“I’ve been on the same squad with [fellow captains] Chelsea Stewart and Sarah Mayfield for four years,” said senior captain Aja Hornbeck. “It’s great. I love all the girls, and we build on each other’s strengths. Our coaches have been wonderful. They are so supportive they push us, they’re always there to talk, and they help us remain sane.”
In the past three years, the cheerleading program has grown exponentially and features three squads: freshmen, JV and Varsity. Though grade level is a factor, skills come into play as well, on where one is placed.
“The growth of the program has been from the hard work that the girls have put in over the years,” said Foster, “The girls have really gone out in the community and made it known that the WGHS cheerleaders are a respectable and responsible group of girls.”
“I like the girls on my team; we have a good coaching staff, and it’s fun,” said Benson. “For some of the girls, we weren’t as close before we started cheering together. Now everyone is extremely close, and we all hang out. I want to be with the same team [for the next two years], but I know because of age that might not be a possibility.”
Though cheerleading competitions do exist and are featured across media, Webster traditionally has never competed in competitions. There currently is no youth cheer program in Webster, so many cheerleaders start at square one, when they join the freshmen squad.
“I think that it’s a definite possibility for Webster to compete,” said Hornbeck. “It’s really all up to the girls and whether they have the heart to do it.”
Several varsity cheerleaders have been an instrumental part of the cheerleading program for the past four years, including Hornbeck. The coaches too have been an instrumental part within the program, and, together, both the girls and coaches have formed a bond over the past few years.
“I’d like to say thank you to my coaches,” said Hornbeck. “I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it weren’t for them. They’ve impacted my life so much; they’re really creative and supportive. They’re like my second parents, and my squad is like my second family. I’m going to miss everyone. It’s hard but exciting to move on. It’s exciting and sad to leave something that’s been in my life for so long.”
“Three of my seniors have been with me since freshmen year,” said Thomson. “It’s hard to see them go. They’re going to leave a big footprint and a huge legacy. All of my seniors have been invested in the program for four or three years, and they’re going to leave a big void.”
“[They] have worked extremely hard these past couple of years,” said Foster. “I am very proud of each and every one of [them]. I know that whatever [they] decide to do after high school [they] will be