ILWACO — Small in number, mighty in voice.
That’s the philosophy Ilwaco cheerleaders will embrace as they begin the fall season.
Just four have turned out to cheer on Fisherman athletes, but coach Claire Bruncke believes her squad has what it takes.
Seniors Dulcee Ritzman and Chloe Martin are returning with cheer experience. New to the squad are senior Lindsy Agee and freshman Chloe Star.
At an early practice, Star was already enjoying the physical element of the sport.
“She makes us run and stretch,” she said, grinning at her coach during a break under the shade of a tree. “It is a lot of physical movement that we have to do in order to be able to cheer in the first place.”
Several high school sports are experiencing low turnouts, in part because of covid-related disruptions. Some coaches have identified jobs as a common preferred choice to extracurricular activities, especially among seniors saving money for college.
Agee has played volleyball and softball. As she began her senior year, she was eager to fill the fall with an activity. She heard recruitment was low and signed up for cheer.
“I played football in middle school and have brothers, so I have gone to a lot of football games!” she laughed.
Bruncke was delighted Agee stepped up. “We are excited for her muscles,” she said. “She’s going to throw people in the air.”
Cheer commonly divides into two priorities, cheering with the crowd and performing stunts. For the latter, a minimum of four cheerleaders are required. “We do have enough for a stunt group,” Bruncke said.
Ritzman’s return was welcome to the coach, who teases that she is is a “quiet leader.”
“It is a good thing to show leadership and do something for your school,” Ritzman said, when asked why she likes cheer. “But it takes a lot of teamwork.”
Bruncke is in her third year as the cheerleading coach at Ilwaco.
The squad has enjoyed her stories of cheering the Aberdeen Bobcats when she was in high school.
“You get to see the game up close and the athletes appreciate the cheerleaders. And you are helping lead the crowd,” she said.
In the past covid-mangled year, some sports have been played with few spectators because of health safety regulations. Bruncke said for some games cheer squad members were the only ones on the sidelines. “This last year helped players appreciate us more,” she added.
She noted that Agee’s experience with the game will be valuable. “You have to learn football,” Bruncke said. “And you cheer at the right time — in football that’s often more when you are on defense.”
The manner in which a partisan crowd can lift a team or upset an opponent’s momentum has been documented. The Seahawks’ “12th Man” is not a new phenomenon. “If you can get the crowd going for your team, it can help,” Bruncke said.
She is happy with the zeal displayed by her small group of athletes. “My attention is not going to be divided, and everybody can learn a specific role. And we can get closer, too.”