HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
Warrior squad extending good cheer
As the years go by, Kamehameha hands down its cheerleading reputation to the next class
TUCKED away in a remote second-floor room at Kekuhaupio Gym on the hills of Kapalama is the home of Kamehameha cheerleading.
The square room, paneled with wall-length mirrors and a padded tumbling mat at its center is secluded, to say the least. If you blink as you enter Kekuhaupio Gym, you will have missed the stairway that leads to the gymnastics room, and you would have lost the opportunity to witness something truly special.
Behind the leadership of long-time coach Dolly Wong, Kamehameha's cheerleaders have enjoyed more than a decade of success as one of the finest squads in the country.
Since first entering national competitions in 1995, Kamehameha has captured two national championships and recorded four top-five finishes on cheerleading's biggest stage, the National High School Cheerleading Championships at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
"At the end of our second trip to nationals was when we had our real 'ah-ha' moment," Wong said. "It was the first time we took an all-girls team there, and we didn't even make it out of prelims, but we forced the girls to go and watch the finals. There was a team there from Judson High School in Texas, and it was the most awesome thing we had ever seen. We knew at that moment that we wanted to become 'that' squad."
Kamehameha returned the next year and finished fifth, earning their first appearance on ESPN. The year after that came a third-place finish, followed by national titles in 2003 and '04, no small feat considering that there are 5,000 cheerleaders from 48 different states competing in various divisions each year. When Kamehameha won its first championship in '03, it beat out 60 other schools.
Kamehameha has dominated the state cheerleading scene, and will look to extend their success at the state championship on Sunday. Since the Hawaii High School Athletic Association began hosting cheerleading championships in '02, Kamehameha has won its division each season. The Warriors captured the medium division crown in '02 and '03, and continued its win streak at the large division level from '04 to last year.
"We work really hard to live up to the reputation this program has earned," said junior co-captain Keenyn Won. "Our coaches are always telling us to read the name on our chests and remember how hard we've worked, and how hard the girls before us have worked to build our legacy."
WITHIN THE FOUR WALLS of their practice room, Kamehameha's cheerleaders have turned countless hours of practicing double downs, basket fulls, layouts, back handsprings, pyramids, and their signature single-bases into championships. With a year-round training program, which includes weightlifting, running up and down the treacherous hills of the campus, gymnastics training, and of course rehearsing the choreography for their competition routines, team members are committed.
"We pretty much have to work year-round to stay at our best," said senior Corinne Chun, a member of the school's 2004 national championship team. "We begin workouts during the summer at cheer camps and we hold our own mini-camp for the younger girls. When school starts we have practice, conditioning and of course cheering at games. Then we have our competitions, the ILH championships, states and nationals, of course. It sounds like a lot and it is, but everyone here is like sisters."
Fellow co-captain Jasmine Merseberg concurred.
"I've been a part of this program since the eighth grade, this has been my life," said Merseberg. "The cheerleaders have become my second family. We spend every single day together practicing, and the love I feel everyday here keeps me coming back."
Through it all, team members have obviously learned about a lot more than just winning.
"Besides the actual athletic benefit from being a cheerleader here, we feel the girls really learn that anything is possible with hard work," Wong said. "We've had girls go on to become teachers, nurses, engineers, and go on to continue their education in Australia or even law school. These are amazing young women that we have here, and the lessons they learn here about resilience, dedication, discipline and sacrifice, will help them in life."
THE BOND AMONG the cheerleaders is evident by the involvement of alumnae, who continue to support the program long after their graduation from Kamehameha.
"It isn't uncommon to come to practice and see some alumnae there helping out," Wong said. "There have been times that we've had graduates come in and talk to the younger girls about how they have made friends for life here."
Of the 10 coaches in the school's program from the varsity level down to the intermediate squads, nine are Kamehameha graduates. In addition to Wong ('78) and her current co-head coach Melissa Beimes ('93), Giselle Kim ('03), Shannon Cosma ('94), Lisa Cockett ('01), Shawna Lee ('04), Teine Silva ('06), Michelle Kamalii ('96), Ali Garcia ('06) and Kawena Vierra ('06), were also former cheerleaders at the school.
THE SUPPORT within the current cheer squad became apparent recently when a team member's mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
"We had a Christmas party on December 16th, and she was fine, talking to everyone and totally helping out," Beimes said. "The next day we got a call telling us she had passed out and soon she was gone. She was only 34 years old, it was tragic.
"(The daughter) took some time off and then she talked to us and said she wanted to return to the team. She wanted to come back for her mom. It helped the girls realize that life is so precious, and they all value each other so much more now."
In response, teammates, coaches and even the athletic trainer for the squad have worked together to create a fund to sponsor her trip to nationals this year.
"That's what Kamehameha cheerleading is really about," Beimes said. "We're a family. The girls know that they can always call on each other, and they know they can count on us and they know we'll always be here for them, in our little room."