YAKIMA, Wash. -- When I envisioned myself going through senior year, I didn’t imagine myself as a cheerleader, I’ll tell you that for sure. But after being roped into trying out, along the way I discovered the part of me that secretly wanted to be on the squad.

Somehow, I made it on the team along with one of my friends with whom I had tried out. Let’s just say, getting selected was quite a shock at first.

Most people who know me are aware that I am not the peppiest, that my speaking voice isn’t very loud and that my ability to put myself out there is not quite existent. But all of these are components of myself that have been improved since becoming a cheerleader, even though I still have my struggles.

What I expected our cheer team to be is not what it ended up being. I’ve met girls who I otherwise would never spare a second glance to, gotten close to some of them, and learned that the cheer squad is actually quite demanding. A lot of the veteran girls on the team are fantastic people who have worked so hard to improve the team as a whole and who make the switch into the sport easier for people like me.

Plus, there are some significant changes in the school’s cheer program that have recently generated some very big and exciting developments for the group.

A couple of years ago, under a different coaching staff, the Davis cheer program was noncompetitive. The members only cheered on the sidelines of games and not in competitions against cheer teams from other schools elsewhere in Washington. Under new leadership, the Davis program has seen a solid change for the better.

For example, this summer was Davis High School’s first time taking part in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Skills Camp, where we learned new cheers, created a couple of new routines for football season and were able to improve upon our stunting abilities. During the final day of this June 27-30 advanced-level “Elite Camp” at the University of Puget Sound, our group was judged on the two routines we had created. The hard work of those three previous days paid off when we were awarded the title of Overall Camp Champions against 11 or so other squads who were there from all over the state.

But also as part of that title came an invitation for our Davis cheer group to go to next January’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. If we’re able to go on that trip, this invitation would provide our Davis team with the opportunity to take part in the NCAA bowl’s pre-game activity, and the chance to showcase the ever-
improved skills that our group has developed.

Being invited to the Citrus Bowl has been a massive step in the cheer program at Davis, since no team in the school’s history has been invited on a trip by UCA.

Along with that offer to go to the Citrus Bowl, Davis had three girls at the camp earn individual All-American recognitions for their skills, and as a result have been invited to travel with the All-American UCA squad this winter in Paris. This also is a giant step for the Davis program, following up on last year when Davis attended a similar cheer camp and only one member of the team was granted All-American status.

Speaking about the changes that have happened with the squad during her time on the team, third-year veteran Ana Hernandez says: “I have been able to see the enthusiasm, as well as the work ethic become a lot stronger, which has pushed us this far and has opened many opportunities for us.”

The leaders and veterans on the Davis cheer squad — along with the coaches — have truly made it possible for such success to be achieved at such a swift rate. This all starts with the positive vibe that is felt during practices. Our veterans are more than willing to help anyone struggling and to aid other team members in improving. There is no belittling others on the squad, only pushes to make each other better and to provide solid support to each teammate.

I’ve learned that it takes a team full of people who have the same end goal, performing their best come competition, to make progress in any line of athletics or activities.

In our fundraising efforts to support our competition trips and to achieve the goal of making that trip to the Citrus Bowl, the Davis cheer squad has held multiple car washes this summer, sold raffle tickets at most of the recent Downtown Summer Nights events (where we even got in on the Yakima Police Department Lip Sync Challenge video) and sent letters to various businesses in hopes of gaining sponsorships. At this point, it is unclear if the team will be able to attend the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day 2019.

No matter, though, because Davis cheer is here to change the way that the community views not only our squad, but our school as a whole. It is safe to say that the success of the cheer squad coincides with the success of the school. None of the positive changes at Davis would be possible without staff members like our school’s cheer coach, Tracie Dennis-Johnson.

It is not in every school in which you can find leaders of athletics and activities who are so caring and able to put in the extra effort of coaching students and watching over their athletes to the extent that the staff at Davis does.

Without the stellar veterans we have, the hardworking rookies, and the supportive coaches, I would not have found a love in cheer. And Davis High School would not be seeing the overall success it is now seeing in its cheer program.

Alexis Weber is an incoming senior at Davis High School.