Cheer returns to Page High School

Riley Cliburn, Sara Kidman, Sophia Boshane and Grace Barney perform during a Christmas halftime show.

After a year-and-a-half hiatus, cheerleaders have returned to Page High School – and their presence at basketball games, wrestling matches and other events has been instantly and distinctly noticeable.

When the cheerleaders are in the house, the energy level is much higher, the vibe happier, the shiny moments more sparkly. They bring an instant boost of energy, like 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C. 

The thing that makes it pop, the thing that makes it work, is the authentic energy and happiness of the cheerleaders themselves. Their smiling faces glow brighter than Santa Claus’ Christmas tree. On its best day, the Navajo Generating Station never produced this level of energy.

One of those bright, happy faces belongs to Grace Barney. This is her first time as a cheerleader. She is also one of the cheer captains.

“I like it a lot!” she said. “I was a little nervous to join at first, but the school seems super-supportive of it.”

Barney danced ballet and jazz with Jan Kocjan before she closed her studio. Because of Barney’s previous dance experience, the cheer moves came naturally to her.

Lucy Byrom is also a first-time cheerleader. She said she was a bit surprised to find herself on the cheer team. Her favorite part about being on the cheer team is the new friends she’s making.

“I never expected to be a cheerleader,” she said, “but I’m loving it.”

“It has been fantastic to see the transformation at the games,” said PUSD Athletic Director Megan Moore. “They bring a level of enthusiasm that wasn’t there before. It has completely shifted our game-day culture.”

Even when the high school had a cheer squad a few years, it was a relatively small unit of eight to 10 girls. This year’s cheer squad boasts an impressive 29 girls. For the majority of the girls on the squad, it’s their first time being a cheerleader.

The cheer coaches are Kelly Hansen and Brittany Hansen. It was Kelly’s idea to bring cheerleading back to the high school. Kelly was a cheerleader and member of the dance team when she was in high school, and found that it was a constructive, growth-promoting time of her life.

“I loved it!” she said. “It’s one of the things I look back on with very happy memories.”

She wanted Page High School students to have that opportunity too. When asked, “What is her ‘Why,’” she paused a moment, then said, “Because life can be hard. I want these girls to know that they can put in the hard work, and practice and accomplish hard things. I want them to know the feeling that comes when they play an important role in something that’s bigger than they are. The school spirit that they bring to the high school culture, to the players and the fans is actually a big deal.”

Kelly was the assistant cheer coach the last time Page High School had cheerleading. She had to take, and pass, an exam with the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and the National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS) to become certified to be head coach.

Brittany Hanson joined as assistant cheer coach to help Kelly facilitate a safe environment for a group of students who wanted to try something new.

“I want the girls to have a positive, new experience and I wanted to give them a safe place to do it,” she said.

Kelly and Brittany held tryouts last November, and the cheer team was selected. After that, they chose five cheer captains and began holding practices.

In the beginning weeks, the team learned arm, leg and body movements, as well as the words to the cheers, which they perform and shout out from the sidelines. In addition to the sideline cheers, the team has also learned different halftime performances, which required learning a new set of synchronized movements. 

The cheerleaders have also been working on back handsprings, back walkovers and cartwheel roundoffs since December, and the squad is incorporating those actions in more and more of their cheers and routines.

Kelly is also certified to teach lifts, throws and other stunting moves, and the cheer squad has been incorporating them into the cheer repertoire as the program moves forward.

More than two months into it, Kelly is happy with the progress she’s seeing in her team.

“It’s going really well,” she said.

“It was a really steep learning curve those first few weeks, especially since most of the girls are first-time cheerleaders. But now, we’ve got the basics down, and now we’ll start stunting. Cheer is back and in full swing!”

This year’s cheer captains are Hannah Barnes, Grace Barney, Sara Kidman, Allie Hansen and Kenzie Hansen. The captains were chosen by the other cheerleaders. Each captain leads a small group of cheerleaders and helps them learn the movements and the cheers.

This year’s Cheer Squad is Gabrielle Cummings, Grace Barney, Hannah Barnes, Sara Kidman, Mazie Zimmer, Anastasia Christiansen, Zoe Tate, Maycie Talbot, Lexi Johnson, Kenzie Hansen, Allie Hansen, Sophia Boshane, Sienna Wertz, Madison Case, Haleigh Smith, Emily Hawker, Traidyn Sutherland, Taliana Morgan, Ny’Asia Walsh, Mylee Metz, Riley Cliburn, Ozlynn Begaye, Alyssa Zimmer, Lucynda Byrom, Audriana Ramirez, Addy Brazell, Kimi Kawano, Haylee Hunter and Leana Tso.

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