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Under the direction of Nicole Waite, St. Helens cheerleaders are prepping for basketball season.

COURTESY PHOTO: NICOLE WAITE - St. Helens High School cheerleaders connecting with the student body for school spiritWith prep basketball underway at St. Helens High School, it's time for the Lions' cheerleading squad to show its talents.

Coming off COVID-shortened football and basketball seasons, the cheerleaders, under the direction of coach Nicole Waite, are looking forward to more of a normal season.

Currently, Waite has 11 members on her cheer squad, having started out with seven at tryouts.

Waite, who was re-hired as the cheerleading coach at St Helens High School this past spring, has always had an interest in cheerleading.

Originally from Kent, Washington, Waite moved to St. Helens in 2000 after she got married.

"In junior high, I had a friend ask me to try out for cheerleading," she said. "I was doing gymnastics and I decided, 'Yeah, I'll give cheerleading a try.' I found I really enjoyed it."

Waite tried cheerleading for three years during high school but never thought of becoming a cheer coach.

Then, "after years and years of going to football games, I thought, 'You know what, I think I can do the job,'" Waite recalled.

At St. Helens High School, Waite admits that COVID-19 and safety protocols can make life challenging for a cheerleading coach.

"I feel like I didn't truly get to see or know my team, until they could remove the masks," Waite said, noting, however, that "everyone was eager to be a part of a team and a part of the family."

Even with masks, cheerleaders last football season were enjoying more of a normal fan atmosphere.

"The games were wonderful," Waite said. "Everybody was just wanting to get out — in a way, it was a good experience because we got to re-teach them traditions at football games that we do."

As we approach a new basketball season, Waite's cheerleading team is ready for action.

"We are definitely looking forward to it," she said. "Basketball season for me, as a coach, is important because I like to make halftime a way to engage the crowd. We've done musical chairs and crowd giveaways."

Waite continued, "It's a different kind of feel from football season, but it's one that's just really engaging with the crowd, and that's what we want to do. We want to make them enjoy their time there."

At a basketball game, cheerleaders are closer to spectators, which can enhance the entertainment value of the games.

"We like to do a lot of repeat crowd chants with them — that gets them excited," Waite said.

For those who would like to become cheerleader, Waite has some advice.

"I'm looking for people that are leaders, that are not afraid to be in front of the crowd," she said. "They can be shy when they start out and I can help them grow and come out of their shell. But they need to have that desire."

Waite added, "Some people don't think it's a sport, but it takes a lot of athletic ability to do a lot of the things that we do. We do a lot of jumps that require a lot of athletic ability. They need to be willing to put in hard work, and just have a good attitude and a desire to work with a crowd."

While Waite's cheerleading team was not able to attend the Dec. 1 boys home opener against Banks (St. Helens lost 52-32), the cheerleaders are looking forward to revving up the home crowd in January after a long road trip.

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