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Cheering the future





On Friday nights in the fall at Lewis Field Stadium, youngsters dressed in navy and white -- some who have yet to crack the books in kindergarten -- peer anxiously over the railings at the teenagers in front.

They watch their elders' every move and subconsciously tuck them away in their memory for later.

While this could be the scene of budding football players, it's also the case of future cheerleaders.

So the cheer squad at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School is getting their someday-to-be-replacements ready at a mini cheer camp.

Approximately 40 girls in preschool through sixth grade are practicing with the TMP cheerleaders this week in preparation for Friday night's performance at halftime of the TMP game against Russell at Lewis Field Stadium.

"I think this is great; I love it," said cheerleader Lexi Wasinger, a TMP junior who has been involved in some type of dance or cheering since she was 3 years old.

Wasinger was a natural with the youngest group that included nearly two dozen tiny cheerleaders ranging in age from 4 through first grade.

While the group might have started slow -- there were some ups when there should have been downs and kicks with the right foot when it should have been left -- but by the end of the session, most were in unison.

Following one routine, TMP junior Samantha Whitmer stopped and looked out at the group eagerly awaiting her next instructions.

"Now-w-w, do you want to do it to music?" she asked, which was answered with a resounding "Yes!"

Following two evenings of two-hour practices this week, the youngsters will receive a T-shirt so all will match for Friday's halftime production. Some of those from the oldest group might even get to cheer for a couple of minutes toward the end of the first half.

Some mini cheerleaders wore last year's camp shirts to Tuesday's practice session, and others were decked out in cheerleader uniforms.

Five-year-old Laylah Gottschalk featured a little of both, with her blue Monarch cheer shirt tucked into a pink skirt.

Watch for that name in the future. It's a safe bet Laylah probably will be a cheerleader some day.

"We have family at TMP, and she watches the older girls all the time at games and (Tiger cheerleaders) at Fort Hays games, too," said Laylah's mom, Cherie Gottschalk. "Then she goes home and imitates them.

"She absolutely loves cheering," added Laylah's mom, who said her daughter was upset two years ago because she had not quite reached the required minimum camp age of 4.

Donna Lubbers, one of the cheerleading sponsors at TMP, said it's a win-win situation for all involved.

"The mentorship they get from one another is great," said Lubbers, a guidance counselor at Hays Middle School. "The older girls get many great leadership benefits, and the younger ones watch these girls on Friday night for sure."

Wasinger agreed.

She grew up watching cheerleaders and participating in dance, and now she gets to pass it on.

"I helped teach even when I was in middle school," Wasinger said. "I love it. By Friday, they're pretty good."