It’s Thursday afternoon at Chilliwack secondary and a crowd is gathering just out the back doors, ready to take in the first home rugby game of the season. It’s a match that’s sure to be full of rough and hearty body hits as the Storm battles against G.W. Graham for the win.
Meanwhile, inside the school’s gymnasium, a small team of athletes works through their moves.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”
Meet the new CSS cheer team. One dozen girls of varying experience in dance, theatre, cheerleading, track and field hockey.
They work under the direction of coach/sponsor teacher Lynette Earle and stunt coach Jaylene Howie, meeting twice a week for gruelling practices that run up to two hours a time. Tuesdays are a regular practice, and Thursdays are stunt days. And because this is a home game day, it will be their first time cheering a rugby game.
The girls are excited.
Their warmup runs the gamut from light stretching to full-on Pilates, holding planks for minutes at a time. And just when their coach thinks they’ve had enough, the girls ask for more.
It was the girls who asked for the team in the first place.
“I had some girls come to me and ask about it last year,” Earle said. It would have been impossible without both Earle as the sponsoring teacher, and the stunt coach. They started up in late October with 15 and have dwindled down the the dedicated dozen. The team has cheered for boys and girls basketball already, focusing on the home games. But what the fans at the games see are called sideline cheers — easier routines that don’t include the stunts.
It’s coming, though, Earle said. The girls are working on a big routine that they’ll perform at the year end assembly. It’s loaded with stunts, choreography, physicality, and all the trappings of a full cheer show.
There’s just one proviso.
“We can’t toss,” she said, due to liability. “We have to keep contact in high school cheer.”
But they still have “flyers.” In Thursday’s practice, they break off into four groups of three. In each group, they work on lifting the flyer straight up, using the strength they’ve built up over months of practice. The goal, by the end of the year, is to have all three groups’ flyers raised in perfect unison.
“It’s a pretty demanding sport,” Earle said, watching the girls as they sometimes stumble, sometimes nail it. “Balance and core strength is very important.”
This is the only high school based cheer team in Chilliwack, and they’re hoping to grow. Right now, the girls don’t even have mats to fall onto when they miss a hit.
That will cost the team about $5,000, and Earle has a long list of fundraisers planned for the rest of the school year.
But the numbers are there for growth. There are plenty of talented cheerleaders in town, both through Fusion and the Giants. Many of them are in the elementary and middle school level right now. But they’ll be in high school soon, and Earle and her inaugural team will be ready for them.
“We’re pretty sure our team will be bigger next year,” she said. “We would like to have a junior team and a varsity team.”
They’re looking at entering competitions in the near future, too, but as a new group they are limited to entering those at their beginner level.
“It’ll take a few years to get up to those higher levels,” she said. But she’s confident cheer has become popular enough to make the program sustainable. And the long-term hope is that having a cheer team at home games will help build CSS school spirit — a school that used to draw in crowds that could lift the roof off a gym.
“School spirit has been a bit of a struggle at CSS,” she said. “The fan base has really dwindled and people just don’t come out and cheer like they used to.”
Maybe that will change one day, Earle said.
But until fans start filling the seats again, CSS teams can count on the cheer team to rally them on.