By AARON MEAD

amead@chinookobserver.com

NASELLE and ILWACO — Cheerleading is both a highly visible student activity and a form of athleticism in its own right, combining elements of gymnastics and dance, along with some running and calisthenics.

Naselle High School has revived a cheerleading program this year for the first time since the 2013-14 sports season, as a result of a student-driven effort. Kim Gonzalez and Jazzy Fisher recruited schoolmates, and Gonzalez persuaded Spanish teacher Herlet Watson to coach the group. Samantha Mayrel joined and became the team captain. Amanda Schulz, who has performed as a circus artist and loves putting on a show, signed up. Gillian Hope, a Comet softball player, joined, as did Samantha and Tori Gustovson; Tori, a freshman, helped persuade her older sister, who was wavering between cheer and volleyball.

The group attended Central Washington University’s cheerleading camp this summer. Watson, who had previously coached soccer and softball at the elementary school level, said the camp helped greatly in getting her up to speed on cheerleading.

The squad eased into the season with basic cheers and motions in the opener, but by the Taholah game in late September they were performing stunts. Gonzalez was the flier, the one who gets held up or thrown in the air. They also have routines with Samantha Gustovson as flier.

“When I found out I was flying, I was ecstatic,” Gustovson said. “Some people think it’s scary,” she added, in the tone of someone who has been to a haunted graveyard. “There’s a lot of preparation required, but it shows people we’re taking it seriously, that we’re doing stunts and things, that it’s worth trying to improve.”

It also took some time to develop a connection with the crowd.

“The crowd reaction for Taholah was better than in the first game,” Mayrel said. “At first, they didn’t really know there were going to be cheerleaders. Now, there’s some girls in elementary and middle school who are really into it.”

“The first couple of games, it was quiet,” Watson said. “[the fans] were unsure how to react. But it was our first game, too; we were tentative. Last game, there was more involvement from fans.”

The students, who brought about the creation of the cheer program, are continuing to take initiative. Watson saw Mayrel taking on leadership at camp and quickly made her team captain. Mayrel and Schulz have been choreographing the routine for halftime of the Oct. 13 homecoming game.

The cheerleaders have not followed the Comets on the road, but will do so for any away playoff games. Watson has seen growing interest, but has not decided whether to allow new signups for basketball season. It would be difficult to get everybody up to speed, but more cheerleaders would allow a greater variety of routines.

Fisher said wanted to put a team together to promote school spirit, which she thought could use a jolt. She and her teammates hope to generate excitement, with the cheerleaders, fans and athletes feeding off each other’s energy. Against Taholah, when a runner broke free, “We cheered him on,” Mayrel said. She hesitated, perhaps not wanting to jump to unwarranted conclusions, before adding, “He started going a little bit faster. And he scored a touchdown.”

The Ilwaco High School cheer squad has good participation this fall, with 12 students currently cheering.

Ilwaco’s new coach, Ann Breitenfield, is in the process organizing her team and doesn’t yet have much to say. She takes over from Elizabeth Forney, who left the position after two years.

Ilwaco’s cheer roster consists of Adriana Araujo, Hannah Baze, Cheyenne Bent, Lilyana Doupe, Madilynn Eichler, Ashley Hampton, Carolina Mendez, McKenzie Mulinix, Laurel Simmons, Emma Stark, Chandelle Thomas and Alexis Warren Hollis.

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