Lifestyle

Mercer Island Cheerleader U - Children cheer the home team

By Lynn Porter

Jordan Krieger wanted one question answered before she began learning to be a cheerleader for the Mercer Island High School football team.

``I don't know how to spell. Is that OK?'' she asked her mother, Alissa Krieger.

When you're 5 years old, these things matter.

Krieger is one of 40 to 50 children in kindergarten through fifth grade who turned out at the high school's gym for a cheerleading clinic Oct. 23 and 30. Taught by varsity cheerleaders, it prepares the youngsters to strut their stuff before a live audience at one of the school's football or basketball games. In this case, they did so during the second quarter at the Nov. 4 Islanders vs. Mt. Si football matchup.

``They were adorable,'' said parent Janet Morse, who noted that at any given moment half were with the cheer and half were doing their own thing. ``It's a real community event and the kids really look forward to it.''

While it's true the clinic is designed to get the group of mostly girls ready for prime time, it offers much more than that. Part camp -- complete with silly songs, dances and games -- part fitness class, part motivation seminar, the clinic is all about positive reinforcement.

``Good job you guys,'' yells cheerleader captain Andree Burns at almost any chance she gets.

``We have to practice for the game. They make a lot of touchdowns,'' shouts the enthusiastic 18-year-old senior whose rah-rah attitude is mirrored by all the other varsity girls.

They shout, high-five, hug, clap, smile, dance -- do just about anything to let their small charges know how well they're doing.

``Nice side hip action,'' shouts one cheerleader, to which another one adds, of course, ``good job''

The varsity girls teach the youngsters chants and cheerleading motions, and the kids follow along -- some of the time. For instance, few of the children can keep up with one cheerleader who raises her legs and simultaneously touches her toes with the dexterity of Gumby. But the youngsters make up for their more limited coordination with verve, extending their arms and legs as high and as far as they'll go. Luckily no one falls and no one hits anyone else.

A number of the kids come to the clinic year after year. Brad Morse, one of the very few boys to attend, is doing it for the second time.

``He has always loved cheerleading,'' says his mother, Janet, of her son who has Down syndrome. To show his enthusiasm, Brad, 13, has collected pom-poms in various colors for cheering at his brothers' and sister's sporting events.

``He just loves bringing them to games. He's a very good fan,'' says Janet Morse.

``He's our favorite boy,'' says one cheerleader as she gives him a hug.

To add variety and keep the kids' attention, the cheerleaders do silly stuff, such as the Singing in the Rain routine, which would make a good icebreaker at any corporate event. In this activity, the kids are expected to put their thumbs, knees, derrieres and tongues out and their heads back -- and sing.

But cheering is the main deal. And cheer they do. ``Go MI,'' the cheerleaders and their charges shout. ``Who rocks the house? MI rocks the house,'' they yell, getting more enthused with each chant.

The enthusiasm is catching and the kids seem to love the clinic.

Nicki MacDiarmid, 6, for instance, thinks it's wonderful ``because we get to learn lots of cheers and we could be in a football game.''

Alex Graham, also 6, likes ``playing games'' and thinks keeping up with the cheerleaders' moves is, well, ``pretty easy.''

The varsity cheerleaders use the money raised from clinic fees for needed items, such as their outfits, says Arlene Naganawa, an organizer of the yearly events. She encourages boys to sign up for the program, which is $30 for one day and $45 for two. The price includes a T-shirt, which cheerleader Naomi Flick, 18, designed for the football clinic.

The clinics are a ``tradition,'' says Naganawa and ``a way for the little kids to participate in a community activity.''

The littlest of kids -- the kindergartners -- seemed to love being at the football clinic, although they were a tad confused about who they were to cheer for. In a random ``survey,'' one group of kindergartners surmised the Islanders are ``somebody that lives on the Island'' or ``someone who works here'' or ``I don't know.''

No matter. The clinics are about team spirit and enthusiasm and doing your best. It's a message the varsity cheerleaders get across well.

Just ask Olivia Weber, 7, who attended a basketball clinic and came back for the football one.

``She loved it,'' says her mom, Michelle Weber. ``She only wanted to be with the Mercer Island cheerleaders. They're great with the kids. We'll see them at a game or around town and she's really proud that she knows them.''

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