Manly cheers, and a lot of spirit
Chugiak’s competitive cheer team sports unlikely teammates
Chugiak High School coed Comp Cheer squad member Kade LeKites is tossed up in a “basket” at the Contest of Champions in Orlando. The coed team won the High School Spirit Award.
Karson Forbush didn’t grow up thinking he wanted to be a cheerleader.
Instead, he followed a more traditional path. He wrestled. He played football.
He was just an ordinary high school guy.
Until he wasn’t.
What changed wasn’t so much his attitude as his window of opportunity.
Namely, one of the members of the school’s comp cheer team asked him to try out for the team. Forbush laughed. There were no male cheerleaders on the team at that time.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” he said.
But the idea stuck in his mind. He thought about it. Then he thought about it some more.
“I finally realized that there were no minuses. I mean, I’d be surrounded by cute girls. I’d be lifting them up. How could that be a minus?”
He tried out and was surprised to find that he was good at cheering. That it was fun. In fact, it was so much fun that he soon encouraged buddy Tyler Carnahan to join him.
Carnahan, a member of the football and track team, soon discovered that competitive cheerleading isn’t a sissy sport. It’s hard work. It takes discipline and balance and physical strength.
“I hadn’t a clue as to what I had gotten myself into,” he said. “I had no tumbling experience.”
“It was a bumpy road,” Forbush agreed. “It’s a lot of hard work.”
Teammate Jon Hefner agreed. His very first practice he got an elbow to his eye that required stitches.
“I was terrified out of my mind,” he said. “I couldn’t even do a backflip on a trampoline.”
Charley Pappas joined the team in December.
“I was working out with the football team and thought I was in shape,” he said. “The first day they taught me a backflip. And it kept getting harder.”
He hadn’t expected it to be so tough.
“I thought it would just be cheerleading stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I thought it would be easier.”
Joyce Davis, coach of the Chugiak team and president of the Alaska Spirit Coaches Association, believes that a co-ed competitive cheer team strengths bonds and offers opportunities to perform more intricate and demanding routines.
“Having males on the team is the best recruitment,” she said. “There are a lot of stereotypes we fight. The main thing is that they’re here for strength, not beauty.”
The Chugiak High School Coed Comp Cheer team recently won the Anchorage School District Region IV Cheer competition and then went on to win their division and level at the Contest of Champions Nationals in Orlando. They also won the coveted High School Spirit of Disney award.
According to Davis, males are normally situated at the base of tumbles and jumps and during “basket” routines, where one of the girls is rocketed up in the air, often so high that they can’t even practice in the gym because the ceilings are too low.
“They’ve gotten up to 20 feet,” Davis said.
Emily Romero, a senior, has been on the team for three years. She tried out because she needed an extra gym credit.
“And did they whip me into shape,” she laughed. “I never had muscles like this before.”
Comp routines are two and a half minutes and involve cheering while lifting, jumping, tumbling and performing baskets.
“It’s exhausting and strenuous going through the routine,” Forbush said.
There are presently 13 cheerleaders on the squad.
“We had a good season,” Davis said. “We’ve been successful. We’re all friends, and we make each other crazy. We’re like family.”
Comp cheering isn’t the same as cheering on the sidelines during a football game, she stressed, and team members who work hard can enjoy the benefits. Not only does the team travel down to Florida for the nationals each year but those who excel can sometimes pick up college scholarships.
“It’s more competitive for girls but the boys are shooting for scholarships. I’m hoping for full rides,” Davis said.
Cheering demands commitment, Romero said. A huge, huge commitment. Yet she’s never regretted the choice.
“It’s so, so much fun,” she said.
And none of it, Forbush said, would have been possible without Davis’ support.
“We have the best coach in the world,” he said. “We’re all so grateful. She’s changed most of our lives. I know she’s changed mine.”
“Oh, stop it, Davis said.
And then the woman who was named Coach of the Year three times wiped her eyes. “These kids,” she said. “These kids have been like my own.”