Keeping spirits high at sporting events is more important than ever, and three local cheerleading squads are finding new ways to rally their teams and engage fans despite COVID-19 restrictions.
Distanced cartwheels and chants replaced close-knit pyramids and hugs for the Charleston Recreation Department’s Daniel Island cheerleading program. Coach Crystal Herring said 38 grade school girls joined the program this year cheering for flag football teams Saturday mornings. Unlike last year when there was one large team, the group had to be split into four smaller teams and cancel some popular activities.
“Last year they got to perform at a Charleston Battery game and had a float in the Mount Pleasant Christmas parade and ice cream dates after games,” Herring said. “But we just took this year for what it was and made it as fun as we could and they still had a blast.”
Because the girls weren’t able to have performances or social events, they decided to hold a toy drive for Toys for Tots at the Daniel Island Grill in December, where they filled two SUVs with new toys. The event was so successful, Herring plans to make it an annual tradition. “Hopefully next year everything will be back to normal and we will be able to do extra performances and continue the toy drive.”
Bishop England High School’s faculty cheer advisor Emily Herrmann said the beginning of the football season was difficult for their squad because they weren’t allowed to perform stunts and had to remain spaced apart on the sidelines. And because practices were limited, it was difficult for the girls to connect and get to know the new freshmen.
“I have been very impressed with their attitude through the whole thing,” Herrmann said. “At the start it was hard for them to get close to each other, but once practices were more regular, there was a total shift and they really came together as a team.”
Basketball season brought more challenges inside the gym where rules were stricter. Because of attendance limitations, the whole squad was not able to cheer together during games, so the girls had to be split into two teams that alternated games. Then in
December, after only a handful of matches, the season was put on hold until mid-January.
“It’s been a struggle this year especially with basketball, but the cheerleaders have remained positive and do a very good job in the stands,” Herrmann said. “The fans love it and they can see how hard the girls are working.”
At Phillips Simmons High School, head cheerleading coach Ellyn Bowen secured new flags and megaphones to garner enthusiasm at games and pep rallies. “This year we were able to do some things that helped build spirit and the cheerleaders really enjoyed having those extra tools to bring excitement to the game,” she said.
The squad was forced to start practices and hold tryouts later than usual, and there were fewer girls who participated because of the uncertainty. Then due to attendance restrictions, the cheerleaders had to miss many away games and playoff matches.
“They want to be there for the teams and they can’t travel to all the games this year so that’s really been a challenge because I know they want to go and cheer on their peers,” Bowen said.
For basketball season, the cheerleaders had to move to risers away from the fans, which made it difficult to be heard in the gym, but they are using their new signs and banners to rouse the crowd during halftime and quarter changes.
“The girls have done a great job. We’ve definitely had to make last minute adjustments and there has been a lot of schedule changes,” Bowen added. Phillip Simmons also had to cancel many of their December and January basketball games and resumed play this week. “I’m very proud of them for being able to keep a good attitude and power through all the changes.”