“Cheer in general is a great sport if you love dancing and bringing spirit to those around you, it builds many friendships with amazing people,” Cheer Team co-captain Jaelyn Harrison said.
As with many of Mira Loma High School’s teams and clubs, the Cheer Team is gradually adjusting to and grappling with a return to something resembling normality. To represent Mira Loma spirit at numerous school events and games, the Cheer Team’s members work hard every day to organize and practice their routines. Waking up early to practice and master stunts in preparation for performances is just a portion of what the team’s members achieve.
To Leah Castleberry and Jaelyn Harrison, all of it is a meaningful opportunity. The two juniors, both co-captains of the team, spoke with Mira Loma Today about how cheer has impacted them.
Castleberry—inspired to join the team by her older sister, who was cheer captain in her junior and senior years—always enjoyed the fun, uplifting nature of cheer. After having “looked forward to the years [she] would have the chance to do the same,” she became a co-captain of the team in her junior year.
Having joined the Cheer Team as a freshman, before the pandemic, Castleberry describes the post-pandemic team atmosphere as being “close, supportive, and comfortable” despite the team becoming smaller.
Above all, Castleberry has enjoyed “becoming close with all the girls and making new friends” to bond as a team.
Harrison, alternatively, joined the team on a whim. When she heard about cheer tryouts she decided to take a shot, deciding she wanted to be “part of a team at least once in [her] life”. Despite a self-professed lack of dance skills, Harrison said that her interest in cheer started with her and her cousins making dances together, as well as her inclination towards positivity.
“My passion was to be positive and happy to whoever needed it,” Harrison said, “and that’s basically what being a cheerleader is about.”
Harrison has also enjoyed the unexpected friendships she has built, as well as the accepting nature of the team—which she describes as “just a little family.” Time spent together is dedicated to more than just practice, ranging from “team bonding to game nights” or simply making time to “sit and hang out.” When performing, they maintain the same attitude, laughing and persisting in the face of mistakes.
Beyond the Performance
As co-captains, Castleberry and Harrison are responsible for calling and directing cheers, and spending time refining, coordinating, and executing routines. Harrison says that she and her co-captain Castleberry are often “look[ed] to…for help” because they “both are determined to be great ‘leaders.’”
Castleberry, having formerly participated in the team, notes a great difference in responsibilities as a captain. She choreographs most of the routines that the team performs, while Harrison assists and mixes music for performances. In her first year on the team, Castleberry was able to “go with the flow” and do what the captains had planned. Now, the role has been passed on to her.
Even with all of these responsibilities, the two co-captains still greatly admire everyone on the team. Everyone “individually bring[s] qualities to the team,” including their own skills and perspectives, Harrison says. With these personalities and a coach she appreciates, Harrison finds the experience impactful and unforgettable.
Castleberry also admired her co-captains’ quick development and dedication to cheer. “She’s always the first to practice, so kind to everyone, and is at every game,” Castleberry said.
An Immeasurable Impact
At rallies and games, the Cheer Team has performed choreography to support the school. Many of these performances support the school’s own sports teams, including Mira Loma’s basketball and soccer teams.
One athlete on the Girls’ Basketball Team, senior Alyssa Canafe, says that the Cheer Team’s performance made their team “a little nervous” and “put more pressure on [them]” to perform well. However, they also felt “motivated … to do [their] best.” Despite the self-consciousness involved with making a mistake during a game, Canafe said that winning games with the Cheer Team present “felt like an even sweeter victory since we had the support of the Mira Loma Cheer Team.”
Castleberry’s experience in cheer has also helped her to be “more social and energetic.” Though it was initially difficult to wake up at five in the morning to make six o’clock practice, the effort has been worthwhile for Castleberry, who feels “more accomplished and productive at the end of the day.” Another challenge has been perfecting new stunts. However, everyone has been able to stay safe and perform well.
Since her introduction to cheer, Harrison has undergone unexpected growth, becoming much more outgoing and building new relationships with her teammates. As for the physicality of cheer, Harrison has been able to utilize muscle memory and vocal projection. With the use of muscles she had never used before, cheer contributed to her fitness, relationships, and skillset.
Despite feeling doubtful of her abilities when she first started since she was new to cheer , Harrison continued to work hard, practice, and ask questions. Her efforts, and the support of her teammates and coach, helped to boost her confidence.
“If you truly put in the effort and keep practicing,” Harrison says, “you will get whatever it is you’re trying to learn.”
As with many extracurricular activities, cheer has greatly influenced those involved in it. Harrison described that it “opened up [her] life to great friends and new skills which [she] definitely didn’t think about when [she] joined.”