'BRIGHT, SHINING FACES'

Camp unites cheerleaders with the next generation

2014-02-24T00:00:00Z 2014-02-24T14:16:05Z Camp unites cheerleaders with the next generationBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Many Senior High School cheerleaders attended the school’s cheer camp when they were themselves fledgling athletic boosters.

So they’re only too happy to be putting on a spring cheer camp from 9 a.m. through noon on Saturday, March 1, at the school’s small gym.

The camp is for children ages 4-13, and each participant will receive a T-shirt. The cost is $35, payable at the door.

“It’s fun to work with the kids and their bright, shining faces. They’re so excited,” said Emalee Alpers, a senior cheerleader who began attending cheer camps at Senior and West high schools when she was 6. The high point for the upcoming camp, she said, will be participants’ chance to perform during halftime of the Great Falls CMR-Senior junior varsity game, which begins at 2:45 p.m. on March 1.

Kennedy Chambers, another senior and a four-year cheerleader, said she views her sport as “a great way to bond and to spend a lot of time together,” qualities she hopes to instill in the 75 to 100 younger girls expected to attend the cheer camp.

And to athletes and others who disparage cheerleading as something less than a sport, the two cheerleaders have a ready retort.

“They throw balls,” Chambers said. “We throw people.”

During a midweek practice in the gym at the Lincoln Center, groups of cheerleaders practiced lifting their smaller colleagues high in the air. A number of them stood alongside as spotters, their arms in the air, ready to catch their teammate if she fell. The emphasis, said assistant coach Baylee Larson, is on safety.

Larson, a sixth-grade teacher at Bitterroot Elementary School, was a cheerleader at Senior before graduating in 2009. She’s in her fourth year as Senior’s assistant cheerleading coach; the head coach, Vicki Criswell, a math teacher at Senior, is a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader. She’s in her first season.

What Larson enjoys about cheer camp is “the way the younger girls look up” to the older cheerleaders, she said.

“It’s fun to watch them interact,” she said. “If we can get them involved at an early age, and if they get into it, it keeps the sport alive.”

The cheerleaders already know some of their charges. Larson said several younger girls cheer alongside the squad during Senior athletic events.

The camp is designed to teach the younger girls the basics of cheering and dance, she said. Also on display will be the cheerleaders’ enthusiasm for their sport.

“It’s fun to pass our passion on to the girls,” she said. “This will be their big opportunity to perform.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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