The road to football season is well chronicled. Newspapers, magazines and online publications will preview, analyze and prognosticate.
Less chronicled is the preparation of a group that faithfully supports those teams through thick or thin, win or lose, rain or shine. That is, of course, the cheerleaders.
Almost as long as Texas has had football, it has had cheerleaders roaming the sidelines. This year will be no different. In fact, like many, the squad from L.D. Bell will start preparations even before the football team. The cheer squad has camp in mid-July and starts fall practice Aug. 8.
However, what is different this year is that football season is no longer the primary focal point for the cheer squad. Thanks to a pilot program that instituted spirit as a UIL activity last school year, there’s now a state championship for cheerleading.
“Previously, football season was the climax of the year and then through basketball season it sort of tapered off and we were done,” Bell cheer coach Hanna Jo Measley said. “Now, with the competition in January, after football season is when we ramp it up into high gear. Now football season is like the warm-up.”
It doesn’t diminish what the cheerleaders do for the football and basketball teams, and their roles there likely won’t change. In fact, they see those seasons as opportunities to hone stunts and jumps. But for members of the squad, it’s nice to have something else to look forward to.
“We spend all year supporting other sports in the school and community outreach and support, so adding this UIL competition has sort of refocused where it’s not always about everyone else,” Measley said. “We get to do something for us. So that’s a little bit different.”
Last January’s initial UIL spirit competition saw 92 of the state’s almost 250 Class 6A schools send teams, including Bell.
“The cool thing was to see all of other coaches, football players and basketball players we’ve been supporting all year, they came to our competition,” Measley said. “It was really cool to see what we had poured into other people was now coming back. And they were able to see what we could do and it sort of validated the level of athletes [the girls] are.”
Another change for the Bell squad this year is the addition of sophomores to the varsity. Previously, incoming sophomores were restricted to the JV squad. This year, in February tryouts, freshmen were able to vie for varsity spots, and six of them earned one.
That is actually one reason this month’s camp is important. Given that the freshmen weren’t on campus with the remaining members of the squad during the spring, the entire group was seldom together. Camp provides an ideal opportunity for them bond and start building chemistry.
“Like any team, it’s important that we’re on the same page and we are able to work well together,” Measley noted.