Hayden students might imagine, for a minute, game day without cheerleaders.
School halls wouldn't glimmer with game-day decorations, spectators might bumble along in self-led cheers and Tigers playing in competitors' territory might not feel quite as pumped.
Lucky for Hayden, that isn't the case.
The Hayden High School cheerleading squad, after suffering years of low participation, has rebounded this year with more members, more spirit and more respect from their peers.
"I'm proud of the fact they are finally getting the respect they deserve and that they've done the work to earn that respect," said Shannon Valora, who has coached the team since 2000, when pep rallies "were a joke."
With 11 members, this year's cheerleading squad has almost tripled in size from last year.
The senior class's push for more school spirit has been a big part of the change, cheerleaders said.
"I think the senior class is really pepped," junior Desiray Barnes said. "It's their last year, and they want it to be the best ever."
With more members, the cheerleading squad is a stronger presence at games and also travels more, splitting up to cheer for football and volleyball teams at away games.
A lot of support comes from parents, who bring orange and black balloons to games and participate in cheers, the squad said.
Since the beginning of school, the cheerleaders have been practicing stunts and a dance for homecoming football game against Plateau Valley on Friday.
"We're pretty good at 'em," freshman Jacci Gilbert said about the stunts, which include two, four-person pyramids and several thigh stands performed simultaneously.
But the cheerleaders' work isn't just about game time. Much of their energy is spent preparing school banners and locker signs for players. It usually takes six to eight hours to decorate the school, not including the time involved in making the decorations, Valora said.
The squad also will serve as the color guard in the homecoming parade and has been teaching the Tiger Cubs, a group of kindergarten to sixth-grade students, a dance to perform at the Friday volleyball game.
"The preparation for it can be frustrating, but once it's up and done, it's so fun," senior Rachel Murray said about homecoming.
The sports teams are supporting the cheerleaders more -- some athletes even made locker signs for the cheerleaders recently -- but there is still a ways to go before players fully appreciate the squad's dedication, cheerleaders said.
"I don't think they realize how much work and time we put into it," Barnes said.
When the squad isn't cheering at games or decorating the school, they are practicing. They practice for two hours nearly every night, only taking a break between football/volleyball season in the fall and basketball/wrestling season in the spring.
The cheerleaders also are subject to the same eligibility requirements as other athletes and must pass their classes every week in order to play, Valora said.
This year, the cheerleaders are focusing on teamwork and bonding outside of school through lunch dates and sleepovers, they said.
"We're really tight-knit," Barnes said. "I think it's because we went to camp together."
The squad won multiple awards at a cheerleading camp they attended in Glenwood Springs this summer. The cheerleaders are especially proud that all of the camp's participants voted the Hayden squad as having the most spirit.
Once homecoming festivities are complete, the team will begin preparing for its first cheerleading competition, which will take place in Grand Junction the weekend before Thanksgiving, Valora said.
In the meantime, the squad will continue rallying the crowds and pushing their teams to victory.
"If everyone in the stands is yelling, 'Tigers!' it's the more they want to perform and the more they don't want to disappoint," Murray said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com.