ILWACO — Daysi Sebastian Gonzales has a smile that lights up a room.
That will be an asset — because her job is to help brighten an entire stadium.
The Ilwaco High School senior has been chosen to captain the cheerleading squad.
And like her 10 teammates, she savors the excitement of appearing at football games, as well as supporting all Ilwaco’s other teams.
“Everyone is so hyped! If you have the band there, too, it’s really fun,” she said, when asked about the joy of cheering.
“It’s all about our school.”
Teammate Hannah Baze agreed.
“I like coming together as a team,” she said. “It feels good, being able to pull off stunts and do half-time shows.”
This year the squad welcomed a new coach, Claire Bruncke, an English teacher at IHS.
Athletic Director Tim Harrell almost did a cartwheel himself when asked about the knowledge and enthusiasm Brunke brings to the position.
“We are very excited to have her leading the program,” he said. “She brings so much energy!”
Bruncke grew up in Aberdeen where she performed on her high school cheer team. When she returned home to take a break from studies at Oregon State University, she served as an assistant coach for her school’s squad.
She brings degrees in writing from OSU and a master’s in education from Western Governors University to IHS.
At a recent practice, after the teenage delight over new uniforms subsided, the veteran cheerleader offered some down-to-Earth advice on regular machine washing and a trick to avoid unpleasant perspiration stains.
The day’s after-school practice took place behind a goalpost at the Ilwaco stadium.
A short step away, the girls soccer team and football squad learned their moves while a couple of cross country runners sauntered around the track.
Like all the other athletes, the cheerleaders’ training session did not begin until they had all completed stretching exercises. Gonzales led by example, insisting one latecomer go through the same routine, before leading a line in a carefully choreographed move.
Then, with Brunke hovering to make sure the emphasis was on safety, they practiced routines culminating in pyramid combinations that tested balance, strength and trust.
“I am really excited to work with this team and focus on both the cheering and leadership portions of their role,” she said.
Brunke said her approach is to create a positive and fun team environment while developing leadership skills.
“It’s about confidence, leadership and friendship,” she added.
“I would love to get more students involved — in not only cheerleading, but in extracurricular activities at Ilwaco. The more my cheerleaders can set that example, the better.”
The community service component is one that team captain Gonzales embraces. She recalled a recent crab feed that kept squad members busy helping diners while taking turns working to point visitors in the right direction.
Brunke said her squad is determined to increase “Fishermen Spirit among our student population.”
That philosophy is echoed by the team's lone male student, sophomore Julian Garcia-Galvan, who is returning for his second season.
Brunke and the squad rely greatly on his strength and concentration, which he demonstrated at a recent practice, working with Madilynn Eichler to support Ayrianna Walters as she repeatedly tried to spring into a high stance.
“I just like cheering,” Garcia-Galvan said, almost surprised at being asked why he does it.
“I like being excited — and I like supporting other people.”