SHERIDAN — For a group of athletes that operates mainly in pumping up other sports, thier own accolades are often found simply in crowd noise.
The Sheridan High School cheer squad competed in the State Spirit Competition held prior to the 3A/4A state basketball tournaments last week in Casper. It was the culmination of an eight-month long season for a group of 10 SHS girls, led by head coach Alison Vold.
They’ve come a long way. At first, like a wrestler trying to watch tennis they may not even know what they’re cheering for. They begin in August, working to learn a base 35 cheers for the first football game the Friday before school starts.
“My team is really young,” Vold laughed. “They don’t know a lot of the rules for the other sports when we start.
“Coming in, they need to know when to be doing an offensive or defensive cheer,” she added. “They need to be yelling the right things or know when to be quiet. With football or basketball they shouldn’t be cheering at certain times.”
Eventually, the cheerleaders become a natural part of the SHS big sports (basketball/football) atmosphere — blended in between the rowdy student section and the raucous band. Saturday basketball games are traditionally quieter than Friday night ones. Yes, the crowd is smaller, but the cheerleaders are gone.
“The basketball players are the first ones to come to me if they’re not there,” she said. “‘Where were you guys? It’s so much more quiet in the gym.’”
Growing up in Montana, Vold learned in a stronger cheer environment. Still, there’s a movement here that can be seen at last week’s state competition in Casper.
“Even from the last four years, even from last year to this year actually, teams were bigger, they were better, the stunts were bigger, timing was more on,” she said. “This year compared to two years ago, it’s been night and day. Montana had that growth nine years ago, but I didn’t see it here until the last two. Comparative to Texas and schools down south, we still have a long ways to go.”
Sheridan’s 10-girl squad is smaller than most, even some 3A schools. Like any Sheridan sport, Vold said that the girls are multiple-activity students, involved in volleyball or theater as well as cheerleading.
That’s different from somewhere like Kelly Walsh High School. The Trojans took the title at the one-day competition SHS competed in this year, topping the 11-team non-stunt competition, or non-pyramid building cheer.
For Sheridan, it’s still about that development.
“We didn’t get a trophy, but we beat Gillette,” Vold pointed out. “We were closer to the bottom, but the girls had a really strong routine. It was fluid. We got really high points on technique and body position, which is key, really important, the base of what you want.”
Even beyond competition, one of Vold’s big teaching points is something that trickles into the militant synchronization of cheerleading. Vold directs manners and class among her cheerleaders. She insists they, for example, hold the door for everyone — that they behave a certain way.
That means no provocative dancing allowed in this high school dance group.
“Our team is special, we end up getting a lot of recognition from other coaches in the state because they’re so positive,” she said. “We were one of the teams that didn’t get a trophy, and we applauded every other team… you’ll see teams just bawling, and they can’t deal with not winning. They’re used to being complimented constantly.
“My girls are strong,” she said. “They’re realists. I appreciate that they can lose, and lose with pride.”
Sure, losing isn’t fun after such a lengthy season. They focus on the fact that they see significant gains from day one in September to March 6 at state. Zumba instructors work with the girls to build different techniques, and they get instruction from others to build timing, technique and flexibility.
“You can see their muscle development, they already weigh 90 pounds so it’s hard for freshmen,” Vold said of the individual progress. “We allow all girls to come, you can come from not knowing, and just the amount of growth they can have on an individual basis is pretty cool.”
Going forward, as any small sport coach longs for, more girls would help the program’s success improve. But for now, they’re a piece in the blue and gold blur — a visual and audible part of the atmosphere.
It’s a year of growing, as Vold reiterates, and the cheer program is on the upswing.
“They’re doing really well,” she said, now in her fourth year coaching. The team consisted of a 70-30 freshman to upper classman ratio this year.
“It’s starting to catch hold here more than it has before. Every year it gets better, but it still has a long way to go; having more girls where they can be stunting and doing some of the more difficult things. We have the base down now, and we can build from there.”