Arizona high schools seek happy medium with pom and cheer

The Arizona Interscholastic Association wants to make cheer competitions affordable for all schools


Courtesy of Dru Bloomfield

Saguaro High School is home to one of the Valley’s most competitive cheer programs.

Kara Brown, Freelance Reporter,

Within the last decade, high schools throughout the Valley have built their spirit line credentials by dominating at nationals year after year. The Arizona Interscholastic Association hopes to make the pricey competitions more available to middle- and low-income schools.

At the Feb. 17 AIA board meeting, Executive Director Harold Slemmer gave an update on the spirit line competition that is currently under renovation.

“A lot of our schools don’t have the ability to tumble and stunt so we want to come up with something where they can participate,” Slemmer said.

The objective is to incorporate schools that are less competitive from a pom and cheer standpoint. It is a competition based on a set of “game day” cheers rather than being judged solely on skills and technique.

Instead of whipping out back tucks and turning in sync, the new concept of game day cheers will involve a real life scenario.

Suppose there is a 4th and goal during a football game. What is the best chant for you and your team?

A competition of this type is expected to intrigue schools that consider football games a duty to bring up school spirit rather than extra practice time before nationals.

Saguaro High School has taken its pom and cheer program very seriously but recently decided to perform competitively while still having fun.

Head coach Donna Casey came to Saguaro with a competitive team in mind.

“I have coached for many schools and have always had competitive teams,” Casey said. “I felt that Saguaro had the talent and just needed that little push to get them there and to start building the spirit line program.”

It was only a matter of time until the Sabercats acted upon becoming a newly innovated competitive team. Pom and cheer comes as no joke at Scottsdale high schools. With Chaparral and Desert Mountain, both schools that are known for their spirit line programs, only miles away, success becomes more of a territorial accomplishment.

No longer is it about who cheers on their team the best. That flew out the window the second parents started pouring thousands of dollars into their costumes, private lessons, kale salads and teeth whitening.

Pom and cheer is not what it used to be and this is what AIA is trying to reverse.

Michelle Martinez, who coached Saguaro pom from 2007-2011, explains why she never wanted Saguaro to be a competitive pom team.

“I felt like school spirit, team support, team unity and fun were more important than competing at nationals,” Martinez said.

Martinez is a former Arizona State Dance Team member and knows the stress that comes with being on a competitive team.

“To me, high school is about making life long friends and having the time of your life while doing something you love,” Martinez explained. “I felt that pressuring my girls to win a national title was not my main priority as a coach.”

Change is inevitable, but one thing that will always stay the same at Saguaro is the vibrant spirit that emanates from the school.

“Although we have decided to compete, we haven’t lost sight of what is most important,” said senior Rachel Riccobono. “We are here to cheer on our boys, and we will be there every step of the way.”

As for now, schools, coaches, AIA, and the communities will need to get together to work toward an agreeable solution. A decision will need to be taken to decide whether or not pom and cheer teams become an extension of a pep assembly, become their own competitive teams like that of other sports teams, or something in between.