The CHEERful Thanksgiving Spirit

The Cheer program hosted a Thanksgiving Food Drive from Nov. 7 through Nov. 16 in support of the South Bay homeless community.

There’s a lot more to being a cheerleader than donning the uniform and waving pom-poms on the sidelines. This year, the team’s goal is to do a community outreach project each month.

“We say you can always do a high toe-touch and a standing back tuck, but if you’re not a kind person we don’t want you part of our program,” cheer advisor Emily Byers said.

For November’s volunteering project, athletes Priyanka Desai, Audrey Scheller and Amanda Rodriguez signed up to organize a food drive hosted by the cheerleading program, which took place from Nov. 7 to Nov. 16.

“We thought that during Thanksgiving time, having a food drive would [benefit] families in need in the community,” Byers said. “Every month has a spreadsheet, and we write down all the different causes we want to focus on.”

This month’s goal was to benefit the homeless community of the South Bay by collecting non-perishables with nutritional value that can be stored for extensive amounts of time, foods like canned fruits, canned vegetables, peanut butter and jams.

The cheerleaders will deliver all the food collected to the nonprofit organization Family Promise of the South Bay and the homeless shelter Los Angeles Mission.

This drive, along with the other volunteer work the cheer team plans to do this year, is almost entirely run by students. The cheer coaches believe learning organization and leadership skills, such as through putting together volunteer projects, that they can apply in their life post-high school is important. 

“I try to provide that adult responsibility as much as possible to the athletes. I think that any athletic program can be used as a way for young people to learn life skills,” Byers said. “When we planned the food drive, I told the girls that these qualities are all we need in order for this drive to be successful, and that they had to do it. It allowed them to take ownership of the drive and understand how much work it takes to organize and do things beyond learning a routine.”

This is the first year cheer has done a food drive, and according to senior team captain Desai, they “didn’t do much volunteering during quarantine.” Last year, the cheerleading program started doing more volunteer activities as a team.

“When we started doing community outreach, it showed me that we have this whole team of 40 girls at our disposal, and we could be doing a lot more. It’s been really eye-opening, and it’s made our team a lot closer because we are able to help the community beyond cheering,” Desai said.

As captain, Desai makes a point of steering the team clear of the negative connotations many make when it comes to cheerleading, and not allowing preconceived notions to “hinder what we can do.”

“We want to show the community that there’s more to our program, and it’s a really good opportunity to reach out and benefit our neighborhood,” Desai said.

The girls and the coaches work a lot on broadening the meaning of what a cheerleader can be, and team-talks about being a kind person and being active in the community are frequent.

“A lot of the time, people see [cheerleaders], and there’s the stigma of a mean girl who just wants to wear a cute uniform. But that’s far from being true,” Byers said. “What it means to be a Redondo cheerleader is more than just being able to do a toe touch and the outfit. It means being a good person, being proud to be an athlete and being excited to share parts of yourself to make the school a better place.”