Cheer team hopes community flocks to flamingo fundraiser

Friday, August 25, 2017 - 14:21
  • Eagle River Panthers cheerleader Alexis Plumb smiles while she practices a dance routine at Eagle River High School on July 27, 2017. The cheerleading squad, which supports the local Pop Warner football team, is made up of Chugiak-Eagle River girls ages 5-10. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Flamingos dot the lawn of an Eagle River home on July 27, 2018. The plastic birds are distributed as part of a fundraiser for the Eagle River Panthers Pop Warner cheerleading squad. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River Panthers cheerleader Alex Myers practices a dance routine with teammates at Eagle River High School on July 27, 2017. The local cheerleading squad is made up of Chugiak-Eagle River girls ages 5-10. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Members of the Eagle River Panthers cheerleading squad practice a dance routine at Eagle River High School on July 27, 2017. The squad, which supports the local Pop Warner football team, is made up of Chugiak-Eagle River girls ages 5-10. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Members of the Eagle River Panthers cheerleading squad practice a dance routine at Eagle River High School on July 27, 2017. The squad, which supports the local Pop Warner football team, is made up of Chugiak-Eagle River girls ages 5-10. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Eagle River’s pint-sized Pop Warner cheer squad is back for another year, kicking off its 20th season with pep, positivity and plenty of pink flamingos.

“It’s fun,” said 8-year-old Shelby Beuch, one of the Eagle River Panthers’ veteran cheerleaders. “I’m excited about the very end — there’s a showcase at the very end and it’s super fun.”

On a recent sunny Thursday evening, while young football players filled the fields nearby, the group of local girls gathered in a circle on the grass outside Eagle River High School. For nearly two hours, they stretched and ran and danced and jumped, practicing carefully choreographed routines for an audience of parents and siblings. Haylee Donovan, the squad’s head coach, led the young cheerleaders through the same upbeat dance number over and over and over again.

“For the longest dance in the history of five and six-year-olds, I think it’s pretty good,” Donovan said, laughing.

The cheerleaders just wanted to know when they’d get their shiny blue pom-poms.

The Eagle River Panthers cheer squad, part of Alaska Southcentral Pop Warner Football and Cheer, includes 20 young cheerleaders ages 5-10. Some are gymnasts, some are dancers and about half of them are new to the group this year, Donovan said. Practices started in July, and the team is beginning the season with a fundraiser to purchase team jackets for cold-weather games later in the year.

That’s where the pink flamingos come in.

The team’s fundraiser is known as “flamingo flocking,” said Amanda Hamon, one of the cheer squad’s three team moms. For a $15 donation, cheer squad members will set up a flock of decorative pink flamingos in the yard of the donor’s choice. The flamingos will remain in the yard for a few days, or until the person who lives there donates more money to have them removed sooner. To keep flamingos from a yard in the first place, homeowners can also donate money for preemptive “flocking insurance.” People can learn more about the fundraiser via the Eagle River Panther Football and Cheer Facebook page.

A few days after the team launched the fundraiser, flamingos had already been arrayed in half a dozen yards around Eagle River. The football commissioner’s yard was one of the first to go, Hamon said. She said members of the Anchorage Police Department paid for flamingos to appear in the yard of the local fire house. The girls loved it.

The squad is organized by parents and volunteers. Donovan, supported by three “team moms,” began coaching last year, she said. She became involved because her daughter joined the team, she said, and her daughter joined the team after her son started playing football. That happens a lot with Eagle River Pop Warner families, Donovan said — the football and cheer squad are a cohesive team.

“It makes you want to be a part of it,” Donovan said.

The girls practice weekly at the high school. Throughout the season, they’ll cheer for Pop Warner football players at games on fields around Anchorage. The games are fun, parents and cheerleaders said, but it’s the team experience and the girls in the squad who make the season special.

“It’s like the highlight of my day,” Donovan said. “These girls come and put a smile on my face.”

Contact Chugiak-Eagle River Star reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected].

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