FAIRMONT — East Fairmont cheerleading coach Karen Beckman likes to emphasize the goal of qualifying for the WVSSAC State Cheerleading Championship each season — so last year, it likely felt as if the season ended a bit prematurely after they failed to make the trip.
This season, there could have easily been a similar ending — with eight freshmen contributing to the team and little experience on the floor, East wasn’t in a position where a ton of programs would tend to succeed.
That wouldn’t stop them, however, from putting forth their best effort — and that effort just happened to earn the squad the 2019 Class AA Region 1 Championship and a spot on the floor at the state championships in December.
“I think the main challenge of fielding a young team is getting them familiar with the intensity of the program. We start in August with two focuses — getting ready for football games and getting ready for a regional competition. Sometimes it takes them a while to understand how important regionals are,” Beckman said.
“Young squads also have to adjust to the different types of stunt levels in high school. Upperclassmen are a big help with the new members. They help a lot in getting them adjusted to the high school program.”
With such an influx of younger athletes and shortage of upperclassman, things could have easily fallen apart if those returners had trouble with a leadership role. Luckily for East, the opposite has appeared to happen — the older athletes have embraced the role and their new teammates.
“With them learning, a lot of things are new to them. Being one of the older girls on the team, they’re watching us and looking up to us. It really helps them to have that, but having a young team is still challenging because they don’t always know what they’re looking forward to,” junior Samantha Crookshanks said.
“Last year was really rough for us because we only had eight girls total. We all really bonded together this year and it has been nice to have a full team. The freshman look up to some of the older girls, and it’s nice to have that ‘big sister’ feeling,” said junior Gia Episcopo.
The youth inside the program has also been a benefit in many different ways, according to those who have been around the program for a while. For a program that has seen a fair amount of success during the past decade but ran into a rough patch, it appears the new faces have had a rejuvenating effect.
“There are positives — they’re excited about high school cheer and are willing to work hard to get where they need to be,” Beckman said.
“I think we needed a fresh start — new blood, and new people here who want to win,” Episcopo said.
Another key to getting such a young group to become a cohesive and successful unit has been Beckman’s approach to coaching, which she describes as role-oriented and teamwork focused. That philosophy has helped the team mesh quickly as they make their run toward the state championship.
“My philosophy is that every team member out on the floor is just as important as the other. Teamwork is vital to a cheer program, and it really is the entire package which makes a team score well,” she said.
“You definitely have to have that effort — it’s not just doing your job but thinking about what’s best for everyone else on the team. Everyone has to give their best effort - you can’t just do your job and expect that to carry the team. Judges want to see everything we have, and everybody has an important role and important job in that on this team,” Crookshanks said.