Cheer team relies on old traditions for continued legacy of success


Mahnoor Rauf, Staff Writer

Anyone who decides to go to the school mall after hours can hear echoes of chants bouncing off the walls, and view what seems like buckets of sweat rolling down tired faces. Varsity Coach Susan Wood is seen standing in front of these cheerleaders, training them to be as skilled as possible in order to survive and thrive in competitions. She reflects on expectations as well as how the team is shaping up this season.

“We lost 15 seniors last year, so I assumed that it would be a bigger struggle like we were going to be starting over, but so far we’re doing pretty well,” coach Wood said. “A lot of these girls cheered during football season and they were more skilled than I thought even though we don’t have as much experience as we did before. I’m grateful that we have those two seasons back to back because these kids are able to work together with their stunts at football games and it takes a while to learn the technique.”

Coach Wood also describes some challenges the girls face this year.

“We only have a couple returning bases in round three of our competition, so there are a lot of kids learning how to do base stunts that they’ve never done before,” coach Wood said. “However, we’re still really good with arm motions and have strong jumps and some strong tumblers.”

Although everyone does try to speak up and motivate one another, it is primarily the girls who are more familiar with the program that become the leaders of the team.

“The girls are so close from being together all the time that we don’t even have to worry about not having mutual respect,” coach Wood said. “In general, with just the way we run things, all of our returning girls are usually further ahead with their leadership than new girls. The new girls have not been through the intensity at the varsity level, even if they’re some day going to be a great leader, it’s hard for them to be a leader right off the bat. For me it’s not so much the specific kids, but all of returning kids that lead the way for us.”

A typical practice runs from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. — sometimes even longer. Every school night, the girls first condition by working on their jumps and tumbling skills, then work on improving their three rounds for competition.

“We condition every day and we condition enough so that it’s a full body workout every 48 hours,” coach Wood said. “Monday is half of your body and Tuesday is the other half, whether its legs or abs or arms. As for the choreography, it’s a joint effort. Groups of kids work on choreography in between seasons during their down time. They make up motions to go with the words and I step in to check after each stanza to make sure it’ll work. Normally we spend time running through each of the three rounds doing each one over and over again until it’s as clean as we can get it, working our way backwards from the hardest round.”

After their first competition on Dec. 12, Coach Wood explains that their biggest opponents are a lot closer than one might think.

“Some of the strongest opponents are actually right here in the OAA Red Division and that includes Lake Orion, Adams, Stoney Creek and a few others,” coach Wood said. “Those are some really strong schools, and a good portion of what is at the state finals comes from our area right here in Oakland county.”

However, the girls try to focus on mostly improving themselves and their routines instead of worrying about the other teams.

“We can’t change that we don’t have any defense in this sport, we only have offense,” coach Wood explained. “This basically means that we can’t do something like run out onto the mat and tackle the other teams as they’re doing their material. Although the other teams may be really skilled, the only thing we can do is to try and make ourselves even more skilled.”

Tradition is a big part of cheerleading at RHS. Coach Wood describes how it drives the team.

“We don’t have anything to do with whether the football players are gonna win their games or not — we’re not competing against those cheerleaders on the other side. We’re just being a part of the event, a part of the school spirit, and a part of the traditions at our school,” coach Wood said. “Just like the band, dance team and SOF that are a big part of football games, we are as well.”

Tradition is especially an important aspect to Coach Wood as well.

“Our whole program is built on tradition,” coach Wood said. “We pass down a certain culture and our culture and our work ethic is … insane and it’s crazy. We’re very passionate about this and that itself is a tradition.”

Some students have debated if sideline cheer is a sport.

“Cheer isn’t a sport because it doesn’t require as much physical activity as other sports like football do,” freshman Viraj Lunani said.

Sophomore Luciano Errecalde also sides with Lunani.

“Cheer isn’t a sport because I think cheerleaders exaggerate how much work they do,” Errecalde said. “It’s more like dancing. They compete, but it’s not really a sport.”

Senior Bre Weaver couldn’t disagree more, but at this point thinks arguing with others is a waste of time.

“I know my sport’s a sport; I don’t need anyone to justify it,” Weaver said. “I know how hard I work. I play other sports too, and this is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life next to gymnastics.”

Coach Wood explained the difference between the fall sideline cheerleading season and the winter competitive season, which is considered an NHSAA sport. 

“The topic of cheerleading not being a sport is such old news; it’s what people were discussing in the 80s,” coach Wood said. “So if they’re talking about that in 2015, I can’t fault them for their ignorance. I know ‘ignorance’ sounds like a rude remark, but I can’t fault other people for not being educated in what we do.”

Coach Wood further expands on the subject.

“Cheering for sports isn’t a sport itself; we’re not a sport when we’re cheering for someone,” coach Wood said. “In the winter season, we’re competing for points. There are officials and we’re going against the other cheer teams in the gym with the material that we have. This is nothing like what we do at a game, which is why there’s people who say that cheer is not a sport because they’re just not educated on it enough. Competitive season with the MHSA (Michigan High School Athletic Association)… starts the second week of November and ends the first week of March. So we have an official season just like wrestling, basketball and the other winter sports.”

In addition, coach Wood explained how much the girls push themselves to work harder and to overall improve as a team.

“I can’t even imagine someone watching the cheerleaders and thinking that it would look easy because it never for a minute looks easy to me,” coach Wood said. “If you watch what the girls do, you can see that they’re soaking wet even at a football game. The girls work really hard; sometimes it’s torture. If someone even had to memorize just five of those motions and we asked them to do those right now, they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Memorization can be hard work, and coach Wood understands that.

“There are about 95 arm motions in a cheer,” coach Wood said. “So if you see a girl occasionally making an arm motion mistake and think, ‘Really? How could they make that mistake?’ Try yourself and see how many motions you can memorize in a row.”

Coach Wood explains where her passion for cheer began. 

“I cheered here at RHS, believe it or not, and then I cheered at Central Michigan University,” coach Wood said. “I never planned on coming back as a coach. I just cheered because I liked it and I was fairly skilled at it. I got addicted to coaching because I couldn’t stand the un-athleticism. I tried to turn the girls into something more.”

As a coach, Wood accepts that not everyone will always agree with her perspective about cheer, but, like Weaver, she doesn’t care.

“It’s been an uphill battle because there are a lot of naysayers who think that cheer’s not important, but it’s important to us,” coach Wood said. “We’re fine doing what we’re doing and if no one wants to believe we’re a sport, we could care less. I feel that they are some of the best athletes in the school; the girls don’t say that but I do. They make mistakes, they’re not perfect, but they are dedicated. They are not looking for any compliments from anyone else; we believe in what we do and I believe in them.”