When the Shaw Middle School Spirit Squad trots out to the middle of the gymnasium during school spirit assemblies, the crowd goes crazy, especially when the girls spell S-H-A-W with their pompons.
The student body has reason to be proud of the girls.
The 55 seventh- and eighth-graders have a longer season than most middle-school drill teams. They practice and perform year-round instead of only in the fall and spring, as most middle schools do.
They also accept tasks that usually are not those of a typical middle-school drill team. They cheer at basketball games and show up for practices at 6:30 a.m. once a week.
One of their duties includes visiting the five elementary feeder schools around Shaw to help show sixth-graders what they can expect once they reach middle school.
“Middle school can be kind of scary,” said Kristi Allen, one of the team’s advisers. The trips are meant to ease some of that anxiety when the sixth-graders meet the Spirit Squad.
The Shaw group expanded to a yearlong activity about seven years ago, when Angela Fleck, the squad’s other adviser, started working with the group.
“I just saw how much fun the girls had,” Fleck said. “Why not do it the whole year?”
Allen and Fleck work to build both the character and the self-esteem of the girls.
More is expected from them than is expected from participants in most extracurricular activities.
The girls sign a contract to maintain at least a C grade-point average rather than a D grade-point average. Their teachers are in contact with their advisers, so if there is even so much as a library book overdue, the girls must take care of that.
If they fail to meet these expectations, they must sit out from performances.
“Amazingly enough, they can do it,” Fleck said.
“We want them to demonstrate the qualities of a leader,” Allen said.
Fleck and Allen have found that when the girls put so much time and effort into the Spirit Squad, the performances are very important. Letting their grades slip is not worth missing out on one of the performances.
Working as a team is a key element of being a member of the Spirit Squad.
“If someone is gone, it messes the whole thing up,” said Fleck. There are formations and stunts that require all the girls.
The two advisers, working with the girls’ self-esteem, recognize that many girls coming into middle school might not know a lot about personal grooming. So the two teach them how to fix their hair for shows and make sure they feel good about their appearances.
Jessica Coan is an eighth-grader who has been on the team both years of middle school.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small you are or how you look,” she said. She said she enjoys being a part of a group, working hard and having fun.
“You learn new things every time you come in,” said Kaysha Lybecker, another eighth-grader on the squad.
The two girls said they practice as much as possible on their own in their free time. Coan said she practices at lunch and after she finishes her homework every night. They also organize sleepovers at each other’s houses and practice then.
Safety is an important aspect of being on the squad. The girls perform stunts such as climbing onto each other’s shoulders. The girls know they must not do those kinds of stunts on their own, and they must learn the basics of each stunt.
Tryouts for the squad are tough, but Fleck and Allen said that if the girls are on time, work hard, learn the routines and are able to make the time commitments required, then they are placed on the team.
No one is turned away because she can’t afford to be on the team. The cost to the girls when they first join is $30 for their pompons and $10 for the team T-shirt, and they also must provide their own black pants and white shoes.
If one of the girls can’t afford to buy those things, the other girls step up to help, such as older girls giving the younger ones an extra T-shirt they might have. Some family members of girls on the squad also have pitched in with money to help girls get their uniforms.
Allen said she and Fleck encourage the girls to make their own money to participate by baby-sitting or doing extra chores.
One of Lybecker’s favorite things about being on the squad is helping make up routines.
Lybecker said she helped make up the flag routine the group will perform in Spokane’s Junior Lilac Parade in May.
“It’s really nice to have everybody’s input,” Lybecker said.