July 10, 2019 — "Cheerleading is important to me because I feel we really are the spirit and the unity of the school and the community,” said new Siuslaw Vikings cheerleading coach Teri Straley. “No matter if you’re winning or losing, we’re smiling and cheering and always encouraging our team. We try not to have a bad mood or anything. We’re like, ‘Hey, we’re losing, but it’s okay! It’s just one game!’ They really strive to create that leadership and unity within the school by always encouraging people to go to the games and the fundraisers — just participate in any way they can.”
Straley, along with six members of the Viking’s cheer squad, were at the Siuslaw High School’s parking lot, collecting donated cans and bottles to raise funds for basic supplies for the team.
“I suggested the fundraiser to the girls, and they suggested that we do it on July 5, because the Fourth of July was the day before. They know what happens on the Fourth,” Straley said, looking at the various soda and beer cans that had been crunched and stuffed into a truck full of plastic bags.
“Right now, not including the cans we just got, we’ve collected 2,920 right now. … We’ll have enough money to at least buy poms for everybody and their cheer bags, which was the goal for this. And then we’ll do a carwash and other fundraisers.”
Straley is taking the position over from now-retired coach Diane Conlee, who worked with the cheer team for more than 30 years.
“Conlee definitely set a bar with everything that she did,” Straley said. “She was super involved with the community. She would support all the events, even if it wasn’t a fundraiser, the girls were there.”
Conlee’s leadership, by all accounts, was extraordinary. For the school itself, Conlee got the team to all the sporting events, from the traditional basketball and football games, to the track and field meets, where the cheerleaders would “clap and cheer when somebody crossed the finish line,” Straley said.
In the community, Conlee ensured that the team’s presence was felt beyond athletic events, showing up for fundraisers such as Relay for Life and the Van Fans Ice Cream Social.
And then there were the state and national achievements, from taking a JV team to the United States Cheerleading Association’s National event in Lansing, Mich., to the Aloha Bowl.
“They went to state almost every year she coached, whether they placed or not,” Straley said. “Those are some big shoes to fill, because she started that so hard and fast. She was just so involved with everything, and she kept in contact with everyone in the town.”
It’s a bar that Straley is hoping to meet, while at the same time, putting her own spin on the program.
Her ultimate goal this year is to get the team to the OSAA state cheerleading competition, keeping up the Viking squad’s tradition.
“If we go to state, I don’t care where we place — just making it there is an accomplishment for me, as a first-year coach. And then we can work on it from there,” she said.
To do that, she plans to take the team to attend at least four pre-state competitions per year, instead of the required three “so they can get that practice and get them used to performing in front of big crowds,” Straley said. “Performing at a football game is different than doing a state routine.”
But to be able to do that, the team is going to have to hit the fundraising hard — entrance prices for competitions are around $400 per team, which does not include the bus, gas and hotel costs needed to get to the meets.
“We’re going to do a lot of fundraisers in the school during spirit week, such as selling old uniforms that we don’t need anymore and using that money to fundraise for future uniforms and everything,” she said.
Straley is no stranger to cheerleading and what’s involved. She comes from 10 years of dance background and two years of cheer at Bandon High School. Coaching wasn’t her goal when she first came to Siuslaw High School, instead being hired as an English teacher, along with alternative education. When Conlee retired, she didn’t think that applying would get her very far.
“I applied not really fully thinking I was going to get it,” Straley said. “I applied mainly because my mom was like, ‘You would really be good at it.’ I didn’t have my hopes up that I would get it.”
But she did, and after meeting with Conlee and discussing how her legacy should be continued and what more could be done, Straley was all-in — especially because of what cheerleading did for her as a person, helping her grow and mature.
“It made me more outgoing as a person,” Straley said. “I used to be afraid, but now I’m not afraid to stand out in a crowd. I’m not afraid to let my thoughts be heard. [Cheerleading] has helped me realize that I have a voice and I’m going to speak it. It makes my ideas clear and makes me feel that I can be a leader in some way. That’s why it’s important. It’s the same with any sport, too. Any sport can build that. But cheerleading made me feel really comfortable with myself. I don’t mind people getting in my space anymore. My bubble got popped because I was close with everybody.”
And it made her made her tougher, both physically and mentally.
“You gotta be tough,” she said. “You gotta not be afraid of being thrown up in the air. If a flyer falls, and there’s a weird catch and the whole stunt group falls down? I’ve been a part of stunt groups where that’s happened. I’ve got feet to the face from a flyer trying to catch her. It can be really dangerous. Sometimes they can get concussions by simply throwing them in the air. If they whiplash hard enough, they can get a concussion from that. It’s not like football, where you get hit and get a concussion. The cheerleaders can almost do it to themselves.”
To be able to avoid the dangers of cheerleading, squad members have to be mentally aware and prepared at all times.
“They have to be really sharp on their movements. They have to be able to jump. If they kick, they all need to kick at the same height. It’s kind of like the Rockettes, where they all have to kick the same height.”
Straley thinks the biggest challenge for cheerleaders is stunting.
“You are literally throwing a girl who weighs 100 pounds or more in the air, and you have to catch her. If you don’t catch her — that’s it. I hate to say it, but it’s not like throwing or passing a ball. You have to be able to lift her; you have to be able to know how to catch her; what body parts are important to catch; and really how to make it so it’s a safe stunt going down and coming up. There are so many different parts. There’s the flyer who does their own job of holding their weight, pushing off and being able to stabilize themselves. Then there are the side bases, who have to lift her up, hold her and be able to catch her if she falls either way. And then you have the back base, which is the really big support. If the flyer falls back, that back base has to catch her head and her body if she falls.”
There are also the artistic components of cheer. For a state competition routine, there’s of course the complex stunts involving pyramids and acrobatics, but the routine begins and ends with dances. There’s also the calling, where they have to project loud enough to be heard beyond the pounding base of the music, projecting out to sometimes huge audiences.
“It’s not just waving pom poms and kicking and jumping,” Straley said. “There are multiple things that they have to be able to do, and they’re all capable of doing it. That’s what they did tryouts for. They cheered, they did jumps, they did motions, they did dance — we had to really test their abilities.”
But Straley believes the team is up to task to fulfill everything needed to stand out in the spotlight. Larger schools have squads of 15-20 athletes, while her team only consists of nine. To her, that’s an advantage.
“It’s easier for bigger school districts and communities to get more people to do cheerleading” Straley said. “They have more money to have uniforms and hire professionals who’ve done cheerleading for 50 years to come in and teach, versus small communities like Siuslaw, where maybe we’ll get a couple of girls who are interested in it. But I like a smaller squad because there’s more helping between them. They have to work together and help each other. There’s no room for big attitudes on a small team. My girls have no attitudes toward each other.
“And that’s why we’re going to do well.”