These athletes finally have reason to cheer
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By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Four competitors were treated by a trainer for sprains and strains; one went to a doctor wearing a sling.
The crowd nearly filled the 850-seat spectator area 30 minutes before the varsity competition began. There were banners, balloons and loud cheering.
The tension in the warm-up area was as high as one would see in almost any locker room.
The emotions after competition were raw, ranging from heavy sobbing to exuberant pile-ons on the gymnasium floor.
It wasnt the Final Four, or the state basketball championship.
It was the first officially sanctioned high school cheerleading championship ever staged in Hawaii the Oahu Interscholastic Association Western Division Pep Squad Championships Saturday afternoon at Aiea High gym.
Pearl City won both the varsity and junior varsity divisions.
Cheerleading is now a sport, officially designated by the administrators of Oahus public and private school leagues. The cheerleaders and their supporters say it is long overdue.
"This is great," said Kathy Moniz, Aiea Highs cheerleading coach for 18 years and director of Saturdays meet.
"This finally recognizes how much work these athletes put into what they do," said Kamehameha coach Dolly Wong, who will coordinate the private-school championships at Kekuhaupio Gym at Kamehameha on Feb. 17. "Its great there is a forum for these athletes to be showcased."
For competition, pep squads (the official name) "compress the best of what they do into 2 minutes, 15 seconds" (2:30 in the OIA) to show five judges, Wong said. They cheer, dance, and many do stunts incorporating tumbling and acrobatics, such as tossing girls into the air and catching them.
"There is a lot of choreography and creativity," Moniz said.
And a lot of pressure to get it right.
"Our football team had 10 games to get their plays right, but we had just one competition," Mililanis Lyndsey Russell said between sobs after the Trojans missed their timing and didnt do their best stunt routine on Saturday. "Our emotions are pushed to extremes and you tend to take it personally."
Russell felt a little better when she learned Mililani was among six teams that qualified for the OIA championships Feb. 10.
Waianae captain Charmaine Kekoa tried to console her tearful teammates after they botched a stunt. "Two of them took it pretty hard; they thought it was their fault," Kekoa said. "I told them that we work as a team, and if we mess up, we mess up as a team."
There have been cheerleading competitions here for at least 15 years, including the annual Spirit Challenge sponsored by the University of Hawaii, but none has been recognized by the high school leagues.
"Now they can hang a championship banner in their gym, and each member of the winning team will get a medallion," Moniz said.
Senior Jennifer Coronas was a member of the Aiea team that took first place in the small-team coed division in the 250-team National Cheerleading Association championships in Dallas in December 1999. She said shes excited about the OIA Championships.
"In past years, athletes in other sports didnt look at us as equals," Coronas said. "Now being part of the OIA makes it really good. We work just as hard if not harder (than other athletes)."
Coronas says she has been hurt "millions of times black eyes, bloody lips. Currently, I have tendinitis in my right leg · When youre catching the girls, one little thing goes wrong and your face gets bloody."
Her brother, Josh, has learned to respect cheerleaders. "Now that I live with one, I know they are not the airhead Hollywood stereotype," he said.
The overwhelming majority of the cheerleaders are girls, and gender equity was one of the reasons the high school administrators added it as a sport.
But some boys do participate. Senior Dain Azumi is on the Aiea squad. He acknowledges that some boys tease him, but writes them off as "just jealous."
"Ive played other sports wrestling, judo and soccer and you work harder cheerleading because its year-round," said Azumi.
Pearl City placed sixth in the medium-school varsity competition in the 2000 Nationals in Dallas in December. (Kaimuki won the stunting competition in its division and Damien was second in non-stunting in its division).
"We practiced so hard for the nationals that we were more prepared than the others" in the Western Division meet, said co-captain Tiffany Rosales, Pearl Citys only senior.
Hoarse after Saturdays celebration, Rosales reflected, "Ive learned a lot and been through a lot in cheerleading. Its part of me now. I have to perform. And I have real good memories."
With more on the way. Like any other champion athlete.
St. Louis change: Dean Sato will be named head coach at St. Louis, replacing Wade Okamura, who said he resigned after one season for "personal reasons."
Okamura is also athletic director and head girls softball coach at nearby Sacred Hearts Academy.
Sato, brother of Hawaii Pacific coach Allan Sato, is currently assistant softball coach at Kamehameha. He is a 1977 graduate of St. Louis, where he was an all-Interscholastic League of Honolulu second baseman.
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