It is easy to think of them as stirring up enthusiasm for athletes instead of being athletes, but that would be short-changing all that they do, because cheerleaders do both and more.

“Our coach, really, really likes cheerleading and she works really, really hard to make our routines really good,” says Alexa Sanchez. Voices of the others echo the team’s estimation of their coach, Adria Young.

Click for slideshow

Hours and hours of practice go into every routine. Most practices last three hours, and include tumbling, dance moves and learning stunts, that all eventually make their way into the often complex choreography.

“We do have long practices, so it cuts a lot into your schedule,” says Olivia Brents. “You have to be willing to work extra hard.” Cheerleaders speak or sing a language all their own: They make signs and banners, attend all games and then, both perform at halftime (while the other athletes are resting), and watch intently while the football team is playing – in order to assess what kind of encouragement the team needs and when, and then provide it. At the same time, they need to be sensitive to the referees’ rules about what kind of cheering is allowed at what intervals. It is not as easy as it looks.

“I didn’t know,” says Brittany Allen, “how much work it takes just to get everything together for the games.”

And then, just when it is all running smoothly, the season changes. Would-be cheerleaders have to try out all over again for the whole new winter season’s team. Then all those practices and all that choreography have to start over again.

“We have boys on our team now,” a voice calls out from the crowd of girls all warming up as they wait for their coach. “It’s so great!” another replies. But the giggles fade into the rhythm of the music as the coach arrives and corrals them into dance practice, boys included.