New Sunny Hills Pep Squad to cheer on Lancers

Song team launched under two new coaches

 During a weekly Thursday Zoom meeting on Sept. 17, the Pep Squad meets to enhance team chemistry and start learning basic choreography movements from a distance. Adding new song techniques to the traditional cheer team, the Pep Squad struts a new look.

Image used with permission from Katie Perrier.

During a weekly Thursday Zoom meeting on Sept. 17, the Pep Squad meets to enhance team chemistry and start learning basic choreography movements from a distance. Adding new song techniques to the traditional cheer team, the Pep Squad struts a new look.

Grace Johnson

When Dance Production adviser Leiana Volen was presented last spring with taking over the cheer team she had an idea.

“I was asked to take on the cheer team with [Dance Production assistant coach] Jennifer Maletto; I said, ‘Absolutely’,” Volen said. “But I wanted to add something on to the cheer team.”

In her fifth year guiding Dance Production and teaching dance classes at Sunny Hills, the former Clipper girl likened her vision for a new school spirit support team to include song aspects that have more dance-based techniques. 

“Running the dance department, coaching cheer and coaching song in the past [at Mission Viejo High School] is going to prepare me to unite and bring a team together to support one another,” she said. “Once that is established, we can go out and support our school.”

Now known as the Sunny Hills Pep Squad, what was simply an idea has now become a formal group consisting of two teams: cheer and song. Mashing dance and music together to form a new look, both will work as one with the common goal of bringing school spirit to Sunny Hills, Volen said.

“I knew there were people on cheer in the past who had dance techniques so I wanted to integrate some of their skills with the cheer team,” she said. “Some schools have different programs for song and cheer, but we decided to combine them to form the Pep Squad.”

By sometime this past spring, principal Allen Whitten agreed to put Volen and Maletto in charge to set up the Pep Squad for the 2020-2021 school year, and by April 24, the Pep Squad posted on social media its recruitment drive since on-campus classes and programs had closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know that this program is in great hands and is going to do great things,” said Whitten, who has had to find a head cheerleading coach for the third time in the last five years. 

Tryouts being held online around early May, those auditioning had to learn a dance that Volen choreographed and cheer to the song “+1” by Martin Solveig and create a video to submit for Volen and Maletto to review. 

“I was never worried about if we would have enough members because of online tryouts,” Volen said. “There is a lot of pride in our school.”

In fact, she had no need to worry given that a total of about 90 signed up with nearly half that amount getting an email acceptance. 

As of Oct. 26 new uniforms are already on their way; the squad will essentially have uniforms with the same silhouette but with alternating colors like black and white to differentiate who is on cheer and who is on song, Volen said.

Some on the team are looking forward to what they can offer to boost Lancer spirit during a COVID-19 school environment.

“I am a little bit nervous of course because it is a new sport at Sunny, and we have a few unanswered questions like practices or performances in the future,” said junior Celeste Franco, one of the rookies to the Pep Squad. “But for the most part, I am excited and really thankful for the opportunity to make the team.”

Franco and her sister, a senior, will be on the song team, which comprises 15 members. The cheer side of the Pep Squad consists of 28 members.

“When I found out my sister and I both made varsity song, we started screaming and jumping with excitement,” Franco said.

Besides the siblings, Volen and Maletto recruited two boys, one on song and one on cheer, and the coaches hope more males will try out for their team in future seasons.

“Their place on the team is equally as important as any other member of our squad, and each person — male or female — is valued equally,” Maletto said. “Having males in cheer or dance should be normalized and celebrated.”

Senior Shaun Im, who’s on the cheer team, is determined to learn more stunt skills that he can add to his dance techniques. 

“I was at first very nervous about being one of the few guys,” Im said. “But now I am very grateful for the other girls and coaches for encouraging me to be a proud member of the Pep Squad.”

Although she’ll have to transition to a new coach, cheer member junior Katie Perrier still looks forward to continuing with this extracurricular activity, albeit under a new program name. Perrier said she has complete confidence in Volen’s capabilities and believes that she is in it for the long run.  

“I am super excited to be a part of this team,” said Perrier, who has been a cheerleader since her freshman year. “We have been going over cheers and learning basic movements with our amazing coaches, and it has been great to see everyone.”

The Squad held its first online practice on Aug. 27 and has since met every Thursday during a weekly Zoom session up to Oct. 1. 

With updated COVID-19 guidelines, the team is allowed to practice with 20 people from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in the cheer room located in the back part of the SH gym.

Practices have been really fun,” Volen said. “We practice once a week and due to the limitations of the number of people that can be indoors at a given time, we have broken up the squads to practice.”

Even though this new iteration of the cheer team will not appear live as of yet, it has already made its video debut during the Aug. 24 back to school assembly video.

In it, Pep Squad members held a parade in which some team members decorated cars, created spirited signs to display out of their car windows or held black, white or yellow pom-poms. They then continued to drive around the school parking lot promoting school spirit.

They also shot a more personalized video in which each team member made a sign and gave words of encouragement to fellow Lancers.

“The upbeat music and flashes of ‘black’ and ‘gold’ on the screen were a perfect addition to represent what Pep Squad is all about,” Maletto said. “Although we could not perform in person, I would say that it was a powerful and impactful first performance for the team.”  

The group has also started practicing routines for when football games return next semester, preparing for if and when they can return to the sidelines to root on their fellow Lancers.

“From tumbling and stunting in cheer to leaps and turn in song, together they create a more enthusiastic and well-rounded group to pump up our school,” Volen said.

Regardless of whether the team performs on a Zoom call recording or in front of a crowd, the goal remains the same for Volen and Maletto. 

“Our mission as Pep Squad is to be leaders in creating a positive and uplifting school environment, be beaming in school pride and encouraging others to do the same,” Maletto said.