What do Meryl Streep, George W. Bush and Diane Sawyer have in common? They are all former cheerleaders.
Some still have the idea that cheerleaders are bubble-headed beauties who simply lead rhyming shouts to support boys playing sports.
Umm, no.If that stereotype ever were true, it hasn't been for years, and many local cheerleaders prove it by jumping to the top of the class academically and choreographing big plans for the future. Of course, they are strong, versatile athletes in their own right and participate in nail-biting cheer competitions that test strength, skill, grace and involve complicated gymnastic stunts.
There are about 400,000 cheerleaders at high schools across the U.S., according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The ThoughtCo. website reports that 83 percent of all cheerleaders have a 3.0 grade point average or higher.
Take 17-year-old Vy Nguyen. The senior at Centennial High School and Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) has a weighted grade point average of 4.02 and is taking two college-level Advanced Placement classes in psychology and calculus. Nguyen beat herself up last year when she got the first B in her high school career — in her Advanced Placement government class.
Now in the medical program at the career-oriented charter school, she counts anatomy as her favorite class.
"It's the hardest class we have at CAL," she says, "but it is so interesting, you learn how your body works."
CAL language arts teacher Jeanne Sheets-Sagoo calls Nguyen "an excellent student."
"She covers every detail in her work. She is a class leader," Sheets-Sagoo says. "She is at the forefront of every classroom conversation."
Nguyen plans a career in the medical field, and right now is interested in pharmacy and possibly surgery.
"I love to see her developing as an empowered young woman," says Sheets-Sagoo.
Confidence and discipline
Then there's Delaney Johnston, a 17 year-old senior at Gresham High School, who boasts a 3.5 grade point average. She also attends CAL and takes four college-credit classes there and one college-level class at Gresham High.
Ty Gonrowski, GHS activities director, calls Johnston "an outstanding young lady."
Johnston started cheerleading before she reached high school at private cheer academies Wolfpack Athletics and Thunder Elite. She also studied gymnastics at Northwest Gymnastics Training Center (NGTC).
With four older brothers and sisters, Johnston attended Gresham High games with her family growing up.
"I always looked up to the cheerleaders," she says.
Johnston's mom, Karen, says cheer and the leadership role it requires in high school has done a lot for her daughter.
"I think that it definitely helps build confidence," Karen Johnston says. "It helps them learn to work as a team."The cheerleaders also have to fundraise, organize pep rallies and other events and lead activities that help bolster their management and other skills.
Delaney Johnston says cheering has taught her discipline too.
"I've learned direction, motivation and determination," she says. "It helps me focus on goal setting."
Johnston also is involved in leadership and student government. She's organized the school blood drives and works on other school efforts such as support for breast cancer group Breast Friends and a toy drive. During spring break in 2016, Johnston went on a service trip to Nicaragua and helped build a school.
She calls a CAL advertising class and a GHS global perspectives class her favorites.
Eyeing advertising as a possible career, Johnston plans to attend Mt. Hood Community College to finish up the credits she is already earning there and then transfer to a four-year college.
'No' not an option
Lauren Anderson, an 18-year-old Barlow High School Bruin, has been cheering since her freshman year.
"I like how close you get with the team," she says, "and I like that it's an all-year sport."
Anderson has a 3.95 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, has taken several honors classes and enjoys her European History class. She counts the college-level history class among her favorites and also likes her medical applications class at CAL, which focuses on how to take care of patients.
Sheets-Sagoo also taught Anderson, calling her "a very smart young woman" who "cares deeply about everything she does."
Anderson "is able to think critically and develop ideas through her writing," Sheets-Sagoo says.
Anderson plans to attend a four-year college. She'd like to go into nursing, specifically neonatal care.
"I really like being around infants and children and like how this would let me connect with families," she says.
"I'm leaning toward George Fox (University, in Newberg) but I've applied to several schools."
Another CAL teacher, Donna Helm, who taught Nguyen and Anderson medical terminology, praised both for their "drive and motivation."
"They don't take no for an answer," she says, "not to mention that they are both really nice girls."
Brandie Siebel, Barlow's cheer coach, emphasizes how it's important to "shine a positive light on cheerleaders and how hard they work and how they do so much more than jump around on the sidelines."
Anderson, who concurs, cherishes the lasting friendships she's made on the cheer squad. Like the others, she says cheering has given her confidence. She and her peers blame movies and pop culture for the less-than-positive stereotypes of the cheerleading sport.
"Most cheerleaders I know are exactly the opposite" of the cliché, she says. "It isn't a deserved reputation."