Lake Forest cheer team gearing up for competition season

FELTON – December is a busy time for the varsity cheerleading squad as they continue gearing up for competition cheer season.

But make no mistake about it, they have been working hard for months.

The Lake Forest cheerleading squad, led by head coach Amber Rash, begins practicing over the summer. The two-day-a-week summer practice schedule ramps up once school starts.

The squad cheers at all of the home and away football games during the fall. Once the 10-week season is complete, the real fun begins.

The first Saturday after the last football game, preparations for competition season takes another step forward with a one-day camp.

Through the National Cheerleading Association, a camp was held for the Lake Forest cheerleading squad Saturday, Nov. 12, and it was a helpful experience for both the experienced and inexperienced cheer girls in addition to the coaching staff.

Lake Forest cheer placed first at every qualifier last winter, and placed second overall at the State Championships in March (Special to The Journal).

“It’s definitely a chance for our girls to get some instruction from outside instructors,” coach Rash said of the cheer camp. “They come in and work on new stunts and tumbling skills. That just gives an outside perspective versus what we’ve been working on, and they come with new ideas. I feel like it really gets them outside of their comfort zone and gives them new challenges to work on.”

In addition to competitions, which begin at the end of January, the Lake Forest cheerleading squad cheers at home wrestling matches, half of the home boys’ basketball games and half of the girls’ basketball games.

It’s a tough balance act between cheering for the school’s other winter sports teams, and working on practicing for upcoming competitions. But coach Rash makes sure her team is doing what they have to do in order to be ready for the end of January.

“We make sure that we have at least three practices a week,” Rash said. “Then our other days are filled with games.”

In some cases, they may even have a two-hour practice from 5-7 p.m. and then have a game to go cheer for at 7:15.

“It is a balancing act,” she said. “Because they need to be sure that they’re prepared for the games, and that they know the cheers we’re doing at all the games. But also, the competitive part of it.”

Coach Rash says her favorite part about cheerleading is the competitive side of things. And her cheer team would likely agree with that statement.

Especially given the recent success the Spartans have enjoyed.

Last year, Rash’s girls placed first at every qualifier and ultimately finished second at states.

Member of the Spartans’ varsity cheerleading team cheer at a home Lake Forest football game this past fall (The Journal/Ben Heck).

Competition season requires a routine, which is two minutes and 30 seconds long. Over the course of the fall and summer, the team puts together the routine – it includes a minute-long cheer and a minute and a half with music.

“We do a cheer with motion, there’s jumps, we do lots of stunts, basket tosses, pyramids, tumbling. Everything you can do as a team, you want to bring it all in at once to help your team be as competitive as possible.”

Memorizing and mastering the two and a half minute routine takes some time and effort from each individual girl, and they then must master it together as a team in order to be successful. Especially considering it’s a different routine, started from scratch, each year.

Rash does all of the choreography herself.

The first competition is Jan. 21 and States isn’t until the beginning of March, so the routine tends to see some tweaking over that time span.

“We’ll start with a routine in the beginning, and as we progress and master the skills we’ve been working on we’ll make tweaks from competition to competition to help bettering our routine,” Rash said.

“Once you do your routine the first time, what you have is put out there and other teams know what you can do. They’re going to try to do things better than you, so at the same time you want to continuously improve yourself to stay competitive.”

In order to qualify for states, you must compete at two qualifiers.

But the Spartans always elect to compete at more than two, because “practice makes perfect,” as coach Rash puts it.

“It helps to give our girls more experience performing and being able to shake their nerves,” she added.

After finishing second last year, coach Rash has her eyes set on first place at states by the end of the competitive cheer season.

Sports editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com

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