Certain talents run in families. Some boast generations of excellent cooks or writers or musicians. In Sue Borg’s family, a knack for cheerleading seems to be genetic. Borg and her daughter, Sarah Bunney have been coaching the Shadle Park cheerleaders for the past 10 years.
The family has a long history with the school. Borg, class of ’68, was a Highland Dancer and met her husband, Greg there. Bunney, class of ’90, was a cheerleader, and her sister, Leah Borg, ’02, cheered as well.
Ten years ago, Bunney, a social worker, heard the school needed a cheerleading adviser. “I called Mom. I really wanted to do it, but cheerleaders have a class during the day, and I couldn’t do that. Mom volunteered!”
Borg smiled. “The girls call us coaches, but technically we’re advisers. We receive a small stipend and we split it.” She laughed. “We’re not doing it for the money; we’re doing it because we love it!”
They must, because the part-time job requires a full-time commitment. “It’s all year – we never stop!” said Borg.
Indeed, from fundraising, to tryouts, to camps, practices and games, the cheerleaders and their coaches maintain a rigorous schedule.
One of the first things Bunney did when she came on board was add stunts to Shadle Park’s repertoire. “Other schools were already stunting,” said Bunney. “But it certainly wasn’t around when I cheered.”
Cheerleading is no longer just about shaking pom-poms. Stunting refers to pyramid building and other feats of strength and dexterity. Bunney said, “The girls have to be athletes to do these tricks.”
At a recent practice, the Shadle Park cheerleaders showed off a few of their signature stunts. Clad in trademark green T-shirts and sporting white ribbons in their ever-moving ponytails, several girls formed a “basket” with their hands and tossed a member of their squad high in the air. They caught her as she landed on one foot with both arms extended.
“It takes concentration and physical strength,” Bunney said. “They are constantly working out and learning bigger, better, cooler tricks.”
She now stunt-certifies other coaches in the area. “You have to be state-certified to be alone with a group who is stunting,” she explained.
This summer, the girls had help with their workouts. Leah Borg, who also cheered at Washington State University, assists with training. Her proud mom grinned. “Leah was athlete of the year when she was a senior. She made up workout routines, named after each of the girls.”
One of those girls, Mackenzie Roark, paused to catch her breath. The junior is new to the squad this year. She said, “I’m surprised at how much of a workout it is – it’s not like anything you’ve done before.” Still, she grinned. “I love it. Everyone has been so welcoming and inviting.”
The stereotype of cheerleaders being stuck-up and arrogant is one that Bunney would love to dispel. “The cheerleaders are the energy and drive behind the school.”
Throughout the year the squad makes posters and fliers, delivers goodie bags to athletes and serves as unrelenting ambassadors of school spirit.
Fundraising also takes up a lot of their time. The cheerleaders don’t receive any funding from the school. “We earn every dime,” said Bunney.
Cookie dough sales, a kids’ cheer clinic and an annual November father-daughter dance help defray uniform and equipment costs.
“It’s a big time commitment,” admitted Bunney. “There’s a lot of months during the year when we’re cheer-obsessed – it really is consuming.”
The relationships they develop with the girls is what keeps the mother-daughter duo coming back, year after year. “That’s why I do it,” Borg said. “It’s not about cheering, it’s about mentoring. I do a lot of parenting – I love my girls.”
In fact, she’s known as “MamaSue” by both cheerleaders and their parents.
“I look at it as a life skills program,” said Bunney. “They learn punctuality, responsibility and how to work as a team.”
And Borg has found an unexpected benefit. “You get a lot of energy from the girls,” she said. “You can’t get old when you’re with them!”