CHS has something to cheer about

INDEPENDENCE -- LeAnne Asplund went to the first Central High School home football game after moving back to Independence three years ago.She was upset by what she saw -- or didn't see.Absent from the game, crowd and excitement was a pivotal part of high school football: cheerleaders.Asplund cheered at Central High for three years in the early 1990s and played basketball for the Panthers on their 1992 state championship team. She graduated in 1993.Coming back to her alma mater and seeing the school without a cheerleading program was unacceptable in her eyes."It bothered me and it bothered some people I talked to. There's an atmosphere it creates," Asplund said. "I talked to coach and athletic director (Shane) Hedrick about it. We talked about it at different lengths and decided to reinvent the program."The 2013 football season marks the third year Asplund has led the Central High cheerleading program.Added to the task of keeping with the few remaining traditions, Asplund is trying to create a tradition of her own.Playing and singing Central's fight song after touchdowns is well known to anyone who's seen the team play. Now, at every home game when the Panthers score, Asplund's girls will lead the crowd in a new rally chant."We already do the fight song. but we're also going to start doing the same cheer. Hopefully it will catch on," Asplund said. "The fight song is very traditional for Central, but this year we're going to try something new."Central was without a cheerleading program for two years prior to Asplund bringing it back in 2011. Photo by Aaron Newton Coach LeAnne Asplund watches her Central High cheerleaders practice in preparation for last Friday night's football game at La Salle. Interest in the program dwindled in the years leading up to its demise in 2009, largely due to the lack of a program at the middle school level."When we don't offer a middle school program, there's little to no feeder program leading in to it," Hedrick said. "We're starting to see that with other sports now. We got to a period five or six years ago where we didn't have enough girls showing interest in it."Upperclassmen have played a pivotal role in garnering interest around the school.Senior Nida Ijaz joined the squad as a sophomore -- the year the program was reborn -- and is seeing momentum build.Ijaz was never interested in sports as an underclassman, but through cheerleading she feels that she has truly become part of a team."It's been better than I expected. I wanted to get more involved with the school and I thought cheerleading was a great way," Ijaz said. "It brought a family together for me. I have little sisters that want to be cheerleaders, they come to all the cheer camps."Asplund has worked hard to build interest in the squad during the last three years, partnering with community members and parents, holding an annual summer camp and working with coaches around Central High.It's all volunteer work, though, and Asplund has five children, aged 5 to 12, so the name of the game is time management.Budget cuts in the last few years have kept the program completely self-funded -- cheerleaders buy their own uniforms and equipment.The 18 students on the squad started fundraising through car washes and selling doughnuts back in June. And by the time school started Tuesday, the newcomers raised enough money to pay for their uniforms."I can't think of the number of Krispy Kreme doughnuts I've bought over the last month just to support them," Hedrick said. "Cheerleading is so expensive. It's a real obstacle for them. My hat really goes off to them."

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