Jr Zebra cheer squads enjoy the work

Sierra Valley campaign kicks off Aug 20
By: Jim Linsdau Lincoln News Messenger Editor
-A +A
The Lincoln Youth Football and Cheer squads have begun practicing and the boys are already practicing in pads. However, the task is no less for the girls who are also toiling under a hot summer sun at McBean Park in preparation for the coming football season. More than 100 girls signed up for cheer, a record turnout. Even the number of Mascots (6-and-under) has more than doubled, and some divisions have as many as 29. Since there are not cuts in the organization, all teams will have to perform in synchronization in order to do well during the competitions scheduled for October and November. Just like the football teams, cheer is broken into five categories, six when including Mascots (age 4-6). The oldest (up to 14) are the Midgets, just below them are the Jr. Midgets (10-12); then come the PeeWee’s (9-11), Jr. PeeWee’s (8-10), and Mitey Mites (7-8). There are overlaps in age depending on a girl’s size and skill level. Cheer Coordinator Donna Buss is in her second season as the coordinator for Jr. Zebras Cheer. Although she doesn’t have to put the girls through routines, she does have to coordinate every aspect of cheer. “I organize everything that has to do with cheer,” said Buss, without appearing under the stress one might expect from such a job. Buss said she does what is necessary for the teams to compete, ordering and helping to select uniforms (including shoes), and organizing and planning for the season. As a member of the LYFC Board, Buss has to collect fees and help maintain the budget. The organization is affiliated with Sierra Valley-USA, which is the league and umbrella organization, USA Football. The league competition is in November. “(The competitions) includes all the squads,” Buss said, “from my Mascots all the way to my Midgets.” In spite of the challenges, and twice as many participants as they had last year, Buss is looking forward to a great season. She attributes the increased turn out to better efforts in communicating with the community, and the success her cheer squads have had competing. “My cheer squads, they win first, second or third place,” she said. “Winning makes everything better.” Midgets Kelly Waterlyn coaches the oldest group of cheer. She is assisted by Chandra De Martini. The Midgets have 14 in their group, and eight of them are returnees. These girls are basically one level away from high school so the routines and stunts become a bit more sophisticated. “When we start with the little ones their stunting is a little more baseline,” said Waterlyn. “As they finally get up to the older squads their difficulty increases quite a bit.” Waterlyn has a pretty extensive background in cheer. She was in cheer for four years, and was also a gymnast. Today, she works as a fitness instructor and trainer, and is in her third year working with LYFC. Waterlyn said cheer was a lot of work, and they appreciate getting support from the boys. The cheer teams support the football players all season, and she said some of that encouragement coming cheer’s way during competitions would be good. “Cheerleading is a sport, no matter what they say,” said Waterlyn. “We also have competitions. And it’s fun, so fun, I love it,” she added. Jr. Midgets Tami Fong has been coaching and following her daughter’s progress since her daughter was 5 years old; her daughter is now 12. Fong said she plans to remain with the cheer organization until her daughter is in high school. Fong is assisted by Meagan Helms. “I’ve moved up as she’s moved up,” said Fong of her daughter’s progress. “Yeah, we started at the bottom and moved our way up.” Fong, who has 16 girls in her squad, said there are four or five girls who have been with her most of the way. She said about half her performers are new, but they have cheer experience through other venues. She said when she started with the Mitey Mites she didn’t think she’d ever want to move up to an older group. She said the routines and stunting get more difficult as the girls’ progress, but she said she’s enjoyed it every step of the way. “I thought I could never do cheer; I could never do older girls,” said Fong. “Now, I love them and I’m like, oh my God, I think every age I have them it’s my favorite one.” She said as the girls have matured so have the cheers and the routines. She said in competitions it’s necessary to throw bigger stunts, but the performers are able to do that because they are bigger and stronger than they were in previous years. Fong is really looking forward to this season and anticipates a lot of success in both the cheer and football. In the short time she has had to work with the Jr. Midgets she has seen considerable progress. “From what I’ve seen so far some girls are ready, and we’re going to throw big stunts,” Fong said. “So we’re going to go all the way, we’re going to go far. Go Zebras!” Even with Fong’s engaging laugh as the end of her statement, it was clear she meant what she said. PeeWee’s Marina Setzer is in her third year coaching, and second as head coach. Setzer said she decided to take on the task because she had a background in cheer, and her daughter was anxious to join. Setzer said the PeeWee’s were the transition stage where they prepare to move up to the higher performance stage. “At this level here I would like them to get a little more aggressive, ready for the older groups” said Setzer. “They’re in the middle still. I try to get them ready to be up there with the bigger girls.” The oldest girls of her 16 performers are 11. The advantage she has is 11 of the 16 have cheer experience from the previous year, and about half have had two years preparation. Setzer said there are things she is still learning and so she keeps a constant vigil for any changes in rules or regulations that might come along. She said when it’s understood what the parameters for scoring are, then she works out the best routine to help the girls to perform well. “Seeing them go up there and shine. It’s so nice; the fans love it,” Setzer said. “I think that’s the best thing.” The PeeWee’s assistant coaches are Kathryn Sanders, and Breanna Thomas. Jr. PeeWee’s Coach Jennifer Howard is entering her first year as the head coach, but was with the team for part of last year. She has had experience coaching cheer in college, and has done cheer at both the high school and junior level. Howard’s assistant coach is Heidi Bland. Howard said she has 16 participants, and a possible 17th to join later. Her group ranges in age from 8-10, but her biggest test is in the fact many of the girls are new. “I guess (coaching is) somewhat of a challenge, since you can have 80 percent new cheerleaders,” said Howard. “So I would say it is definitely a challenge this year more than last year.” Howard said the 2010 season went well because many of the performers she had were experienced. For that reason, this year, she has started with more basic routines until the girls become more in synch with one another and grow in strength. However, the new season has also brought out more volunteers schooled not only in cheer, but in conditioning and training, as well. “I’m thankful to be getting the help that I’m getting,” said Howard, “and I’m very optimistic about the season.” Mitey Mites Sunshine Handley is in her second year of coaching, and has a squad of 29 girls. Most in her group are 7 and 8, but Hanley said she does have a couple 6 year olds. “We have the biggest and pretty much the youngest competitive squad,” said Handley. “All 29 perform together in sync, every eight count, every move has to be together and at the same time.” With seven years of cheer experience in her background Handley seemed quite comfortable with having close to 30 girls in her group. In the two weeks that lead up to the season the team can practice daily. However, when the season starts they are limited to six hours a week. She said part of the secret is in making the routines fun for the girls. She said it’s most difficult early on because the performer’s muscles haven’t gotten into the shape necessary to work on stunts. She said for that reason they do a lot of core exercises and arm strengthening. She said that’s why they have some 8 year olds because they are strong enough to lift the younger ones. “We work on the same routine all year,” Handley said. “We just build, and build, and build.” She said the competition routine for the club was laid out in advance so the girls could begin working on it as soon as they were able. Handley said of her 29 participants, 22 of them are new, although a couple of them do have some competitive experience. “Come out and support us,” Handley said in closing. “The more fans we can get the better.” The Mitey Mites assistant coaches are Desra Delgado, Christy Fox, Raichel Till, and Jennifer Turner. Mascots Marjorie Proffitt came out to watch the girls perform and ended up coaching the Mascots when the team increased from one to three girls a year all the way up to 11, with 13 registering. Proffitt and her family recently moved to Lincoln from the Midwest and she enrolled her daughter in LYFC. Because of the dramatic increase in numbers of girls at the Mascots level the organization decided to add another coach, and Proffitt took the job. “I want them to have a good time and learn to love cheerleading so they will stick to it later,” Proffitt said. “The thing is they learn teamwork, learn to do their cheers correctly, and they can move on to the bigger groups next year.” Proffitt said they will not only learn to do many of the things taught to the older girls, but they would also perform them at the Jr. Zebras’ games. She said girls can remain Mascots for two years before graduating to a higher level. She said it takes time to develop, but eventually the girls grasp the concept of cheer and move up to Mitey Mites. “It takes patience, and when they’ve never done it they need to be slowly integrated into it,” Proffitt said. “Come watch us cheer. And come watch our little boys play; it’ll be fun.” E-mail News Messenger Sports at