Spirits soaring for Anzar High cheerleading team

Emily Jones is helped by gymnastics trainer Cara Denny as teammate Amber Meza awaits her turn during practice Wednesday afternoon.

In about six months, the Anzar High School cheerleaders have
turned themselves into a team heading to nationals.
The team’s 10 cheerleaders will head to Anaheim in March to
compete in the USA Spirit Nationals. The team placed second in the
USA Spirit Regionals on Jan. 10 to get invited to the
nationals.
In about six months, the Anzar High School cheerleaders have turned themselves into a team heading to nationals.

The team’s 10 cheerleaders will head to Anaheim in March to compete in the USA Spirit Nationals. The team placed second in the USA Spirit Regionals on Jan. 10 to get invited to the nationals.

In its first few years, the team has worked up the ladder to attend nationals, the biggest cheerleading event on the West Coast that drew 7,000 competitors last year.

“I think we have a good shot at (nationals). I would have never said that in the fall,” said Coach Susie Swing. “I didn’t think it would happen to them this year.”

Anzar cheerleaders will be competing against 20 or 30 teams in the novice division of the show-cheer category. The novice category restricts certain stunts and tumbling.

The regionals focused on choreography, technique, showmanship, stunts and tumbling. The team earned high marks for their choreography, Swing said, thanks to choreographer Jill Bettencourt. The cheerleaders raised funds to pay for Bettencourt’s services.

There are three freshmen, three sophomores and four seniors on the team. Not many of them have experience in cheering. Some girls have progressed from barely being able to do a cartwheel to doing back hand-springs.

“There was a very slow learning curve at the beginning,” Swing said. “That was just from lack of experience.”

Both Swing and the cheerleaders were shocked to make it to nationals. During their regionals routine, one cheerleader lost her shoe and some stunts weren’t performed.

“Everyone thought it’d be our last competition, so they gave it their all,” said Bri Gottlieb, sophomore cheerleader. “If we work really hard, I think we can get into the top 20 (at nationals).”

At regionals, there were four teams in Anzar’s category. There, the teams competed against a score, not each other. If they reached a certain score, they made it to nationals.

At nationals, Anzar will compete against a score again. The top 25 teams in each category go to the final round where teams are then ranked. Anzar’s cheerleaders are hoping to at least make it to the final round.

“If we make it to the finals, the ranking won’t matter,” said senior Elsa Vallejo.

Before they perform for judges, the cheerleaders have to raise enough money to go to Anaheim. The team has to raise a total of $5,000. Swing and the cheerleaders have already sent out sponsor sheets.

Any donation gets a team picture, thank-you card and follow-up on how they did at nationals. A $50 donation receives a thank-you message on the cheerleading page in the school’s yearbook. An engraved support plaque will be given to people or companies donating $100.

Parents and students will have to come up with any shortages, Swing said.

“Part of the reason the girls have been as successful as they are is the support of such committed parents,” she said.

The cheerleaders are putting on an “Anzar Li’l Hawk” cheer clinic Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. at the gym for children ages 4 to 12. Cost is $20 and serves as a fund-raiser. The team has also volunteered at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and Renaissance Pleasure Fair.

Vallejo thinks the team will do well because of their increased confidence in front of crowds and spending so much time practicing.

“From working together so much, we’re more together and in sync. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and what everyone can do,” Vallejo said.

Compared to the fall, the cheerleaders are more confident and skilled, Gottlieb said. Being a member of a team has also taught the girls to be less selfish.

“They’ve taken on the concept of giving up their individual needs for the good of the team,” Swing said.

For more information on the cheerleaders or to donate, call Swing at 623-7660.

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