GREEN RIVER — A pair of girls plays football for Green River High School.
But many people know already that — each is a senior and has been on the team for multiple years.
“They are a regular part of our football program,” said Anthony Beardsley, activities director for the school and Sweetwater County School District No. 2.
What is less known is that seven boys on the Wolves’ cheer squad set a record for the most males during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.
“Not many schools have that,” Beardsley told the Rocket-Miner. “We’re really proud (of) that participation. That’s something that we take a lot of pride in.”
During those years, all but two and three of the male cheerleaders doubled as football players. One wrestler took up another spot each year. Three years ago, all six male cheerleaders played football, with some of them also having wrestled, according to Burgandy Schmitt, the Green River High cheer coach for those years.
Overall, that’s 75 percent of male members from football. The numbers for the current school year are incomplete, since more boys usually join after the football and wrestling seasons conclude.
For several years, the cheer team has been a top finisher at state, and the boys are part of that success.
“The boys do exactly what the girls do,” Schmitt said. “They dance, they jump, they tumble, they pro-stunt. We’ve never allowed the boys to just do the muscle. They are a team, so they are doing the same thing.”
The only exception is pompoms; at the non-stunt competition, where the pompoms are utilized, only girls participate.
Do the boys gain flexibility?
“Yes,” Schmitt says without question.
“They stretch like in football and stuff, but they are not given the same amount of time as they are in cheerleading, so they are getting extra time to stretch. You’re just stretching more, and it’s easier.”
Cheerleading has proven helpful for many of the male team members. Parents have told Schmitt that their boys have improved in school as a result. They’ve also gotten practice with public speaking.
“If something goes wrong, (cheerleaders) have to talk to each other,” Schmitt said. “It’s not like in other sports, where you have the next play to work it out or the next quarter.”
Schmitt noted team members must talk, even if they don’t like to, because they must communicate throughout a given function.
“We’re a team and cannot afford to have anyone sitting on the sidelines,” Schmitt said. “It’s helped the school and it’s helped in other areas.”
Schmitt said with boys on the team “it gets better because, one, the girls get the chance to teach from the bottom up the boys.”
Schmitt likes that because “it gives the girls confidence to go over and critique boys,” she said.
Vincent Leahy, who is on this year’s cheerleading team, not only transitioned from football but left the sport entirely in favor of cheer.
“There was just something about it I just didn’t get,” the junior said, calling the male cheerleader “a dying breed.”
He is following a family tradition because Leahy’s grandfather also cheered.
Though Leahy didn’t try another sport due to the expense, he stuck with cheer even though the sport ended up in the same cost category.
“I didn’t know I needed to buy a uniform yet, but that’s OK,” he said. “I love cheer. There’s something about it I love. I love the stunts; I love the tumbling. I want to do backflips.”
Leahy can only do cartwheels right now, but he has his reasons for thinking he can do a lot more.
“It’s like a mental thing,” he said.
He noted some differences that arise as a minority.
“I’ll say, ‘Do you guys play the new Destiny (a shooter video game)?’ And they say, ‘What’s that?’” Leahy said. “So that’s how it is.”
“It’s kind of awkward because, like, I guess I’m kind of a flamboyant guy. I’m outgoing and I talk a lot, so I feel like I’m flirting with (the girls), but I am not,” he said. “It’s kind awkward, so it’s weird.”
“They’re really sassy, but I deal with it,” said Leahy, the mascot at Wolves football games.
Dynamics with boys
Schmitt cheered with co-eds for three years in high school. When asked why male cheerleaders are overwhelmingly football players and wrestlers, she said, “I don’t know.”
“I think they come in and say … ‘oh, it’s easy, just throw these girls up, and it’s not too big of a deal.”
While a lot of work is required, those who invest the time have reaped rewards.
Schmitt has watched boys go from “no flexibility at all” to jumping “better than the girls,” the traditionally more flexible gender, in a year.
“If they get the technique down, they can be just as good,” Schmitt said. “You’re having a bunch of girls behind them, telling them how awesome they are. When you get boys and cheerleading, everything is twice as high and everything is twice as easy because they know how to lift.”
The Wolves cheer team sometimes throws males into the air, with females launching and catching them.
“I’ve got some pretty little boys,” Schmitt said. “I mean, at 160 pounds, you can still be thrown and caught.”
Females also anchor the catching effort.
“The girls are an awesome back spot,” Schmitt said.
If a cheer team has males, they will then be penalized in state cheer competition for not “utilizing” them, Schmitt said.
“So (the males) have got to stretch and be just as flexible and try to have the better jumps,” she said.