INDEPENDENCE — The Central High School cheer team is heading back to the United Spirits Association National Championship in Anaheim, California, in February for a second run at a win.
Last year, the team competed nationally for the first time and came home with a first-place trophy.
With two boys and 14 girls on the team this year, they will be competing in the co-ed division.
“There are different stunting requirements,” said coach Megan Smith.
There are partner stunts where a boy is expected to hold a girl up by himself.
The Panthers have three of those stunts in their current routine, Smith said.
“Two girls are doing the quote-unquote male stunt,” she said. “It’s kind of funny. Our girls are just as strong if not stronger at times.”
The 16-member team has 11 students from last year and some freshmen.
“A challenge with any athlete is body awareness,” Smith said.
That’s especially true for freshmen, because their bodies are still growing, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of focus on weight lifting this year,” Smith said. “(And we’re) making sure they are properly lifting people. If you don’t have proper squat technique, it does a number on your back.”
The team is smaller than last year’s.
“It’s a lot different,” Smith said. “You have stronger groups you depend on a little bit more. It’s been a challenge with this routine, but it’s very good and we’re excited about it.”
Their qualifying score for nationals this year was higher than it was last year, she said, but they’re still working to improve.
Based on notes they got from judges, they changed their cheer section.
“It was really great,” Smith said. “We were having some route issues.”
Those were solved when they changed the cheer based on feedback.
“The new kids on the team are excited to prove themselves,” Smith said.
They’ve all been watching a documentary series on Netflix called “Cheer,” which follows a junior college cheer squad as they seek a national title.
“It’s good for them to watch,” Smith said. “These are cheer athletes at their top form.”
It shows how hard work pays off, she said.
“When I say things like, ‘We’re bumping up our schedule,’ ‘We need to get there,’ they embrace it more fully because they want to be like that,” Smith said. “This is big for them. For some it’s the last time they’ll be on the mat.”
While the teams are competitive, there also is a sense of camaraderie among them.
“The cheer community is very unique in how supportive they are of each other,” Smith said. “They love to come down in front of the mat and cheer with you.”
Smith is still in contact with some of the other coaches she met last year.
“The (Cascade Christian) coach and I have already been in contact about critiquing each other and having dinner down in Anaheim,” Smith said.
The CHS team is flying down on the Feb. 13, hopefully with the same results as last year, Smith said.
“If you don’t play to win, why are you there?” she said.
She’s been showing her team motivational speeches from sports movies, she said.
“There’s one from ‘Friday Night Lights’ that I absolutely love,” Smith said. “‘Perfection isn’t about winning. It’s about looking your teammates in the eye knowing you did everything you could, and that is perfection.’ It just is everything as a coach you want to teach your kids.”
She knows they can win national championships, she said.
“They tell me, ‘We need to come up with our inspirational Disney cheer movie,’” Smith said.
Cheer clinic fundraiser
The cost for each team member, before food, is about $700.
To help with some of that cost, they’re staying at a hotel that provides breakfast, and the team has been doing fundraisers since last year.
Their final fundraiser is a cheer clinic from 4 to 7 p.m on Jan. 25 at the CHS gym.
Participants in kindergarten through fifth grade will learn cheers and a dance routine. Middle-schoolers will learn how to stunt.
The cost is $30 and includes a T-shirt. Advance payments may be made by calling CHS bookkeeper Kori Valencourt at 503-606-2506.
Participants will perform Jan. 31 at the Central vs. Dallas basketball game.
There is a link for donations on the CHSpanthercheer Instagram bio.
People can donate online, and a tax ID is generated for them so they can write it off. Unlike some other fundraising sites, this method does not have an administrative fee, so 100 percent goes to the program, Smith said.