Aragon has had a cheerleading team since the founding of the school in 1961. Although times have changed, the purpose of cheerleading has remained relatively the same since its creation.
“We had cheerleaders and we had Pom-Pon girls, there was no dance team,” said athletic director Steve Sell. “[They performed at] football and basketball games, and rallies. Very similar to how it is now.”
During the ‘70s, rather than being selected through an objective tryout process like it is today, the cheer roster was finalized by the student body.
“The first round of tryouts took place before a panel of graduating seniors from the squad and a few faculty members,” said English teacher Sandy Skale, a cheerleader from 1970 to 1972. “They chose about 12 finalists for each squad from the many that tried out. Then those finalists tried out in front of the student body at a rally in the gym, and the student body voted on them.”
Aragon’s cheer team began to participate in competitions in spring 2015.
“My senior year was the first time we started our competitive team, and we went to nationals,” said assistant coach Brianna Rosselli, a cheerleader from 2011 to 2015. “It is a great feeling. I remember when I was on the team, it’s like a thriving kind of feeling, excitement, you get butterflies.”
The team traveled to the USA Spirit Nationals in Anaheim in March 2017. In 2016, this competition hosted over 10,000 performers.
“The first year we qualified for nationals but didn’t end up going, so it was more surreal,” said senior cheerleader Soleia Sano. “It was a dream come true because we were finally able to go to nationals.”
Senior cheerleader Sophia Daya participated on the competition team last year as well.
“You gain so many friendships from that, from going to Anaheim and performing in the competition,” she said. “I became so much closer with my team.”
However, cheerleaders didn’t always compete. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that cheerleading even became a sport in California, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state bill declaring cheerleading an officially-sanctioned California Interscholastic Federation sport — a policy that began this year.
Around 10 to 15 years ago, there was a time where cheerleaders in the United States were perceived as risqué, including at Aragon.
“There was a period of time where, at halftime of basketball games, families with small children would leave and not watch the halftime performance,” Sell said. “I am not going to say the exact years because I don’t want to identify any particular kids, but there was a time where I know for a fact that families with young children chose that time to go outside.”
While the spirit squad has changed the way they perform since then, the perception, according to many cheerleaders, has remained less than perfect.
“[Cheerleading] was thought of as frilly dance, and people didn’t take them as seriously,” Rosselli said. “These girls do really put in hard work, and they should be as respected as athletes as anyone else.”
Senior Sydney Jackson agrees that cheerleaders do not receive the credit they deserve.
“I think people like cheer, but they don’t take it seriously as a sport,” she said. “They kind of think we all just want to stand around and look cute, but it is serious and we do put a lot of work into it.”
This perception of cheer is well on its way to changing with the declaration of it as a sport.
“I think becoming a sport is our biggest achievement right now,” said head coach Darrell Franzella. “It has always been a fight to prove that we are athletes … It is great that people are now appreciating that what we do is not easy.”
Sano, who has been a cheerleader for three years, has seen the spirit squad gain respect as cheerleaders are becoming more involved in the school.
“Before, it always used to be a problem, saying that the cheerleaders here are so stereotypical,” she said. “Today, I feel like the cheerleaders are making a bigger impact on our community. There’s more leadership, there’s more of us doing AVID and music and doing other extracurriculars. So I feel like we are sending more of a positive image than we have in the past.”
In recent years, as cheerleading has gained official recognition as a sport, they have also begun to shed their less-than-perfect image, and gain respect from the school community. The team is hopeful that they will again qualify for nationals and travel to Anaheim this February.