From an outsiders perspective, one may simply consider cheerleaders as a spirited group of students whose main job is to get the crowd pumped up at local sporting events. From the inside, it is much more than that. Perry High School is not lacking athletes who have a strong desire and passion for any particular sport, and what comes with many of those sports are the people who support them. While spectators come and go to cheer on their Bluejays from the stands at any given event, there is a designated group of students whose extra curricular activity is centered around these athletes, the fans, and everything they do and see. A concept that can be occasionally overlooked, the Perry Cheerleading Squad is a team within the teams that play on the field, court, or mat.
There was a short period where this activity did not have a sponsor in Perry. In May of 2016 now-head coach and transitional kindergarten teacher Kim Herrera was approached by her fellow educator and friend Mandi Ballentine Dakin and asked if she would like to co sponsor the cheer team with her.
“This would be something that her and I could do together. She herself had been a wrestling and football cheerleader at Perry High School and I had some experience cheering in my hometown,” Coach Herrera said. “The first year we felt slightly overwhelmed as do most coaches their first year coaching. Our goal was to create spirit leaders that would become positive role models for the student body. We focused on bringing energy to the crowd at games by getting them involved in the cheers and creating a lot of positive energy for the players during the games.”
From there, the team evolved into what it is today and Coach Herrera is now working with Perry Child Development Center preschool teacher, Bobbie Barto to coach and sponsor the football, basketball, and wrestling cheer teams.
This group of girls take on many roles and titles when they put on their blue and white uniforms. The fans and spectators at each of these sporting events look to the cheerleaders to help them motivate and encourage the athletes in front of them. At the same time many of the younger community members look up to them as role models and guides. As this year’s football season came to an end, the natural progression for the cheerleaders was to look ahead to basketball or wrestling season. With a short three day break in between the last Perry football game and winter cheerleading tryouts, a few of these Jayettes were able to talk more about what it means to hold the title of Perry Cheerleader.
Senior cheerleader Jamileth Sarceno has been a part of this team since she was a sophomore at PHS. Sarceno attributed the positive spirit of other cheerleaders to her interest in the activity.
“As a cheerleader you want to get everyone involved and not just cheer along with us, but cheer for the team,” Sarceno said. “Even if the game isn’t going the way we (the community) want it to, we still have to keep the spirit up and know that our team can come back and win it.”
Junior Rylynn Gilmore got into the activity right away when she first came on as a cheerleader her freshman year. Gilmore emphasized the title of role model that she and her teammates possess, especially when it comes to younger community members.
“Remembering how cool it was to have the cheerleaders come and teach us in elementary school made me want to be that (person) for other elementary students,” Gilmore said. “Now I think it’s cool to see how much the teams feed off of how energetic we are. I think it helps for them to see us and the student section ready to watch them. They (the athletes) can feed off of that and it helps them do better in their game.”
Newer members like Savanna Benton, recognize the importance of cheerleading and the skills one can transfer from one activity to another. Before her experience on the PHS Cheer Team, Benton was a dancer who gradually came to recognize cheerleading as something she knew she wanted to try.
“I like being on a team like this because we can all support Perry together,” Benton said. “(I would tell the younger team members) to always stay positive. Even if we are losing, you always want to support our team.”
While the ones on the inside recognize the importance of their roles and responsibilities, many of the other athletic coaches are able to recognize it as well. Head football coach Matt Hardy expressed appreciation on behalf of him and the rest of his team for the group that does so much to prepare and motivate his players on a regular basis.
“It is great that the girls are willing to do so much for us and I think they enjoy doing all the little things that come with being a cheerleader like the posters on the lockers and the pregame signs to run through. I know in the past they have gotten the team personalized gifts and treats on game days and they do a tremendous job leading our pep rallies,” Coach Hardy said. “The great job that they do on Friday nights keeping the crowd engaged in the game and doing it at such a high level, it’s an underrated position.”
While there is an ever-growing discussion of cheerleading being a sport, Coach Herrera and her daughter Carly Herrera see a link in those two words very clearly. Carly Herrera was a former all star athlete when a sudden injury forced her to slow down a little bit.
“I started (cheerleading) my sophomore year. I was in a lot of sports before that and continued with them, but I hurt my knee pretty soon after that so I wasn’t able to do those sports anymore,” Carly Herrera said. “I got into cheerleading because of that. It was something fun and new I could try.”
Whether it is a fun extracurricular activity, a chance to be involved in something and cheer on their peers, or an ever-growing passion for these girls, it is evident that they all play a huge part in the community.
In addition to the bridge that cheerleading built for her daughter from more conventional sports to this one, Coach Herrera recognizes the physical aspect of cheerleading and the precautions it requires.
“Our focus this year has been on safety in cheer and stunting, how to be good leaders, being positive when others are not, and the importance of cheerleaders as athletes. We had an awesome football season because the girls all worked very hard and showed great growth,” Coach Herrera said. “We are looking forward to the basketball and wrestling seasons. This year our motto is ‘Keep your head high, your bow higher, and your spirit highest and as always be loud, be proud, and be positive.’”