By Dave Mast
“Let’s go Knights. Let’s go Knights. Let’s go Knights.”
At every West Holmes basketball game, fans can find a dedicated group of West Holmes cheerleaders on the sideline trying to pump up the crowd, involve the student body section and inject some spirit and excitement into the game.
But to allow yourself to believe that this is the only thing these young ladies do as cheerleaders is to sell them short, very short.
Seniors Chloe Dial, Breanna Zemrock and Abby Johnson have been through the rigors of preparing for a cheerleading season.
While people may not consider it a prototypical contact sport, the fact is almost every single one of the cheerleaders on this year’s Lady Knights squad has been through an injury rehab at some point.
In truth, only one girl from this year’s team has not had to deal with an injury.
Not only are cheers done during competition extremely difficult from both a physical and mental aspect, but they can be dangerous. The nagging injuries and aches and pains worn like rights of passage throughout a season define exactly how tough this seemingly simple activity really can be.
“We have had a lot of injuries, but we have learned to push through because we need each other out there to be successful,” said Dial.
“You have to, like, know when it is better to push through or whether it is better for the team to step aside and let someone else compete in your spot,” said Johnson of dealing with injuries.
A weekly routine consists of three or four two-to-three-hour practices at school. The girls may be cheering at games, but behind the scenes they are making signs for players and coaches, and building school spirit in anticipation of the upcoming games.
If the squad has a weekend competition, that means more practice time on weekends, again for up to three hours.
Considering that many of those practices meant lots of jumping, tumbling and flips, there are ample ways of finding oneself in an awkward situation that can lead to injury.
This hasn’t stopped any of them from finding great delight in the sport they love.
“I enjoy participating in all of the school events,” said Dial. “I feel like we represent the whole school with what we do, and we want that to be a positive representation for West Holmes.”
Zemrock said that the competition side of cheerleading is what she looks forward to the most, and for good reason.
The Knights cheerleading team has excelled with great aplomb during recent years.
Their list of accolades includes a second-place finish for the varsity in the Ohio Cardinal Conference at last year’s competition, a finish which didn’t exactly sit well with the three seniors and their teammates. The junior varsity also rang up a first-place championship.
They then performed at Regionals, where they qualified for the State meet, where they earned 10th place, putting themselves in the top 10 for the first time ever.
At U.S. Finals in Indianapolis in April, the team placed second overall, placing them second in their division in the nation.
Then, at Kalahari Winter Wonderland competition, they put together a dream weekend which none of them could have ever envisioned.
“We weren’t really expecting to do anything there that weekend,” said Johnson.
If by nothing she meant winning their division, winning the High Point championship from every division, and receiving Overall Grand Champion over all-star teams with both guys and girls who perform all of the throwing stunts, then sure, nothing was fine.
“I think we worked as a team, together, as a family, and I think the judges saw that we knew how to relate to each other and that we did everything together as a unit, and that showed a lot on the mat,” said Dial.
“Judges can tell if a team is having fun with their routine, and we were definitely having fun because we didn’t have a lot of big expectations against that kind of competition,” said Johnson.
“I think we tried extra hard that weekend because we weren’t this big team,” added Dial. “We wanted to show we belonged, and we wanted to be the best we could be for each other and prove to people you can compete.”
There is a true competitive spirit that resonates through each of the girls on the squad. That competitiveness drives them to get better, to work harder and to excel.
“I love the competitive part of it,” said Zemrock.
“Yeah, the competition part of this had me from the beginning,” added Johnson. “We get to go to a lot of places we never would have gotten to go to without this.”
However, there is also a relational aspect of the sport, one which is derived from all of the hard work and time spent together.
All three seniors said that in this, their final year, it will be toughest letting go of that.
“We have fun and work hard, but the best part has definitely been the relationships we have created over the years,” said Zemrock. “This doesn’t feel realistic to see the end coming. The time has just flown past, but we have made memories that will last forever, and that is what matters the most.”
Johnson said that the group really came together the past two years in particular, and that feeling of family helped them grow closer together off the mat, which meant better things when it mattered most.
“We pushed each other because we all wanted to help each other get better,” said Johnson. “It is really weird to think that this is going to be our last year of cheering together.”
All of the championship competitions, all of the medals, honors and awards, none of that can hold a candle to the meaningful relationships which they have created.
“It is going to be very weird cheering with the fans and for the team for the final time,” said Dial. “It might be pretty tough on the emotions.”