Cheerleaders stunt and cheer at a men’s basketball game. This year they have been working on stunting in preparation for becoming a competition team.  Photo by Jen Patterson.

“Last year, some days it was a scramble of ‘Where are we gonna practice? Nobody told us where we’re gonna practice’ so then we’d end up in the cafeteria or in some hallway,” said Megan Humphreys, the head coach of cheerleading at Franklin High School (FHS). Franklin cheerleaders are a common sight at men’s and women’s basketball games. Wearing their sleek maroon uniforms, glittery silver hair bows, and supportive smiles, they perform cheers and do stunts. But behind the scenes, the team has dealt with a lot of challenges, and is now working toward becoming a competition team. 

Last year, FHS Frontline reported that practices took place in the auxiliary gym but were often moved to the theater foyer, dance room, and even the main hallway. Humphreys echoed this experience. “Last year it was a toss up, day to day, what space we were gonna be in,” she said. According to Humphreys, the team has had a much more consistent practice space this year. They usually practice in the dance room, which has mirrors that are useful. Sharon Andino, a cheerleader at FHS, recognizes how hard it is to share space between the many sports teams, and feels that the dance room is an adequate practice space. 

However, the ceilings are not high enough to accommodate stunts. Humphreys said, “The athletes that I have on my teams really pride themselves on stunting, because not all teams do that.” Humphreys only became the coach last year, but the team has already embraced stunting. Since it is so important to the team, Humphreys works with FHS Athletic Director Scott Santangelo and the basketball coaches to share space. As a result, the cheerleading team generally uses the auxiliary gym, which has higher ceilings, at least once a week. Another weakness of the dance room is that it is too small to fit the whole cheer team. “With 34 girls, it’s kind of a tight space,” Humphreys said. Generally, some girls spill out into the hallway. Overall, the dance room does not meet the needs of the cheerleading team. 

It would be ideal to practice in the auxiliary gym every time, but unfortunately the gym building does not have enough practice spaces to accommodate all the winter sports. The winter sports that practice in the Franklin gym are basketball, wrestling, and cheerleading. When Franklin was remodeled and the new gym was built, it appears that planners did not take into account how many sports teams practice in the gym. This lack of space is a problem for the Franklin community because it hurts sports teams. The district has the option of addressing this. Karen Werstein, the Public Information Officer for Portland Public Schools, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. 

Cheerleading is very important to FHS student Jazmine Carter (10). “It’s like being with a bunch of sisters. We don’t always get along but it’s just nice to have a group of people that understand me,” she said. The cheer team spends a lot of time together, with practices Tuesday-Thursday and cheering at a game on either Monday or Friday. Humphreys said, “Cheer, more than any other sport I’ve been a part of, is a family. You get to know each other really well because you have to have trust and respect in order to stunt, and so we spend a lot of time just getting to know each other during practices and outside of practices.”

In addition to being the head coach of the cheer team, Humphreys is an English teacher and the Activities Director at FHS. She became head coach in spring of 2019 after being a junior varsity coach the previous year. “I basically decided, during football season last year, that I wanted to advocate for them and be their coach,” she said. It’s obvious that Humphreys cares very deeply for the team. 

This year, Humphreys purchased uniforms for the cheerleaders before the first football game, an improvement over recent years when the team had to wait longer for uniforms to arrive. The uniforms also happened to be less expensive than those purchased in the past. “Typically, uniforms would cost anywhere between 300 and 400 dollars,” she said. “This year, our uniforms cost 175, so it’s a considerable discount.” After Humphreys purchased the uniforms and distributed them, she put in a purchase order to the school. The system is that the school pays for them and students eventually reimburse the school. 

The pay-to-play fee for sports at Franklin is 200 dollars per student or 35 dollars for those on free and reduced lunch. The cost of uniforms is not included in the pay-to-play fee, because cheerleaders pay to own their uniforms. This means that they get to take them home at the end of the season instead of returning them to the school. However, uniforms are an additional financial burden for families. 

The team recently had a fundraiser and raised more money than expected. This money will go towards paying for the uniforms of students who can’t afford the cost, and reimbursing families who have already paid. This helps to lower the cost of cheerleading and therefore makes the sport more accessible to lower income students. 

Any extra money raised will go towards costs required to become a competitive cheerleading team. One of these costs is mats, which they “really desperately need for stunting and tumbling,” according to Humphreys. She also cited choreography, music, entry fees, travel, additional apparel, and props as major costs. The process of becoming a competition team takes around two years: a long time. 

There has been a high turnover of coaches in recent years which is hard on the team. Humphreys is the third head coach since the 2019 football season. The others were Jose Losoya, and Ana Nelson, a college student. “They definitely have dealt with pretty much a rotating door of coaches in the past few years,” Humphreys said. Becoming a competition team takes a lot of coordination and continuity of the program. Humphreys has not been the coach for very long, but her ambitious goal of becoming a competition team shows her dedication and commitment to the Franklin team. Because of this, she could be an asset for many years to come. 

The cheerleading team has the important job of promoting school spirit. They show up at assemblies and basketball games to cheer and are now on their way to becoming a competition team. Jazmine Carter hopes that the team starts competing so they can be taken more seriously, something that the Franklin community can take a moment to consider right now. One way to support the cheer team is by giving them an adequate practice space, which the school and district have fallen short on. 

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