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We have spirit! Yes we do! Self-motivated cheerleaders return to form at high school

A smiling, bubbly bundle of enthusiastic energy has worked all summer preparing to inject added school spirit into high school football-game crowds.

River Falls High School's sponsored cheerleading program was cut several years ago due to budget constraints.

But now nine girls and a volunteer coach have put their heads together and formed a cheerleading group with the school's permission.

And they're back in action!

They cheer at football games and practice on school grounds after hours, but these cheerleaders operate on their own.

The school district does not support them financially, and the girls arrange for their own travel to and from all games.

They wear the same uniforms as the last cheerleaders wore but hope to buy new ones next spring.

The nine girls - Erika Bechtel, 9th grade; Abby Lindevig, 9th grade; Carissa Kirchner, 9th grade; Jenny Gedatus, 10th grade; Jana Wickersham, 9th grade; Samantha Meyer, 9th grade; Liz Anderson, 9th grade; Kassie Bowman, 10th grade; and Nicole Johnson, 10th grade - worked this summer not only learning cheers and formations but also raising $1,500 to help pay for squad activities.

They held a few bake sales and sold goods that they all baked themselves.

The girls said they had fun making cookies, cakes, brownies and "lots and lots" of muffins.

Other work to raise money included car washes and pizza sales. Future plans might include them selling school-spirit novelty items like pom-poms, glow sticks and mini megaphones.

The girls said they'd like to work up to selling T-shirts eventually.

"We have to get some cash flow first," laughed cheerleading coach Angel Zimmerman, who is director of operations at Sajan, a software translation company in River Falls' Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park.

Zimmerman's motivated to help since she used to be a cheerleader in Augusta, which is east of Eau Claire, and since she has very good memories from cheering. She said cheerleaders generate enthusiasm for the teams and school.

Both of her sons also play football in River Falls schools: one is a junior at the high school, and the other is in 7th grade. Zimmerman also has a niece who is a cheerleader.

"It's healthy for kids to be involved in something," she said. "At least you know where they are on Friday night."

Zimmerman said the group is trying to get everyone back in the habit of having cheerleaders.

"We're only doing football games for now, but the group is hoping to bring cheering back as a full organization."

The new Wildcat cheerleaders debuted on a float during the River Falls Days parade, which was rained out. The girls said maybe they'd have better luck with the parade next year.

They said they got to go a little ways before it started to rain.

They've cheered at three games so far: Two away and the first home game last Friday against Chippewa Falls.

When asked if they were nervous before their first home game, hands went to mouths, eyes grew wide and heads nodded. The actual words varied but the answer was unanimous: "Yes, yup, yeah, uh-huh."

The squad said they were nervous because it would be a bigger crowd and home turf.

Zimmerman reasoned that the rookie cheerleaders just have to be louder, saying, "The first two games were away, which gave them a chance to warm up and not be in front of a huge crowd."

The cheerleaders started from scratch back in June.

They got a cheer book. They looked up information on the Internet. They got an older sister to teach them dance steps. They reworked moves to the school song. They voted on two squad captains.

Most recently, they recruited a mascot to help get the crowd going at games and they also made spirit posters.

The cheerleaders said they thought the crowds would take longer than they have learning how to get into the cheers. The girls said they just want to get more spirit going.