Gering Spirit Squad performs double duty, takes one for their teams
     2012-03-01      By Terry Gaston   
Photo by Ken Kurtz/Spectrum Photo
The Gering Spirit Squad front row from left: Libby Wright and Kelsy Belgum; second row: Kelsey Southard, Kayleigh Schadwinkel, Brittany Eckerberg, Jessica Helt; back row: Jayme Laughlin, Sami Phillips, Lexi Rupp and Jessica Wolf, perform at halftime during the recent rivalry basketball game against Scottsbluff.
 
While most schools that field a drill team or dance corps have separate squads from their cheerleading squad, the Gering Spirit Squad is an all-around troupe with a team emphasis.

“We’re just a little unique, and it’s a little stressful but it’s fun,” first-year Spirit Squad coach Kim Southard said.

This year’s squad featured four seniors and six sophomores, including four-year squad member Kayleigh Schadwinkel, who also choreographs some of the group’s dance routines.

Schadwinkel was not the automatic team captain based on her experience. In fact, the Bulldog cheerleaders rotated captainship, jointly chosen by Southard and the team members prior to each game or doubleheader at which they performed.

On this certain night, senior Sami Phillips, a three-year squad member, was bestowed with the captain’s honor. More than a title, however, the captain was responsible for choosing which and when cheers are performed as well as organizes the dance performances for halftime.

“The captain decides what cheers to do and to make sure everyone stays in line and not leaving their spots,” Phillips said shortly after she was named captain for the Feb. 9 boys’ game against McCook, a 50-49 Bulldog victory.

Southard said the squad made more of an effort to get the entire Gering crowd involved, with one added element having two cheerleaders, one on each end of their line, go halfway up the bleacher steps to get the fans cheering.

“I think it has been better this year and the student section is a little more outgoing too,” Southard said of the crowd’s reaction to the Spirit Squad. “It seems like they all have fun together.”

Like Phillips, Kelsy Belgum is a third-year senior member and agreed with her captain for the night that dancing and performing in front of the Bulldog faithful is her most enjoyable element of being on the Spirit Squad.

“I like performing and interacting with the crowd,” Belgum said. “It gets the fans more into (the games), and this year with a new coach, we have done more (musical) dances than cheer dances.”

A squad and crowd favorite this season was “On the Floor” by singer-actress Jennifer Lopez and rapper Pitbull, as was the very popular “Party Rock Anthem” by the hip-hop group LMFAO. In all, the Spirit Squad performed six routines during the course of this basketball season.

“Before we never had music,” said Jayme Laughlin, a two-year senior member. “Now we play music that is more up to date and the crowd gets more into it.”

While the Spirit Squad began the year performing one routine at each halftime of a doubleheader, by season’s end they often presented a pair of routines.

Belgum said each routine takes about three weeks to learn and fine-tune before the squad unveils it for performance. However, Laughlin added that Schadwinkel’s choreography took only about two weeks to learn.

“The routines this year are fun and updated, and these are just very vibrant girls,” said Southard, whose daughter Kelsey is one of the squad’s four sophomores.

Kim Southard took the coaching helm when the Spirit Squad found itself without a coach. As parent-child team relationships can be, Southard said the beginning of her coaching Kelsey was a little rough but has improved immensely.

“They needed somebody and Kelsey didn’t want me to do it at first, but now she wants me to continue,” the mother-coach said.

Southard, a stylist at Visual Effects Hair Salon, said the team practiced two to three times each week and she was willing to work her schedule around the girls’ schedule.

The Spirit Squad even chose to sacrifice state competition honors of its own to cheer on the Bulldog teams at the season-ending doubleheader against Scottsbluff.

“They wanted to cheer for the teams so we decided not to go to the state competition,” Southard said.

Other Spirit Squad seniors besides Belgum, Laughlin, Phillips and Schadwinkel are Jessica Wolf and Libby Wright, both two-year members.
Joining Kelsey Southard as a two-year sophomore are Jessica Helt and Lexi Rupp, while Brittany Eckerberg was the squad’s lone first-year member this season.

“I have loved it and am proud of the girls,” Kim Southard said. “They all have good morals, are good students and get along very well. I am very blessed with that.”

With six seniors leaving the squad because of graduation, Southard will be looking for another young but eager group to fill the vacancies next year through tryouts, which she expects will be in late March.

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