Varsity Cheer Continues Second Year of Strength Training Curriculum


(Center) Melody Hollenbeck, senior, lands after doing a jump squat during Advanced Strength Training. Hollenbeck took the course after being encouraged by her cheer coaches. "A lot of [the cheerleaders] like the class because it's a nice break in the day,"

Before and after school, at tumbling practice and at games, Abbey Gradle, head cheer coach, works with her teams to improve. Last school year, the team added more time to their practice schedule, as she and the other cheer coaches encouraged the varsity team to enroll in Beginning Strength Training. 

Gradle encouraged the varsity team to take the course after after becoming concerned with the team’s energy level. Prior to taking Beginning Strength Training, the varsity team was meeting twice a week before school for strength and conditioning, in addition to normal practices, tumbling and games after school.

“We were doing so much extended time,” Gradle said. “We have an opportunity that our kids could be weight training during the school day. We wouldn’t have to wake up earlier, and [the class] would be on more possible days. That would be better in the long run.”

Gradle also wanted her varsity athletes to overcome their insecurities about exercising in a stereotypically male space. Gradle worked with guidance counselors to ensure all of the varsity cheerleaders during the 2018-2019 school year were in a class that was exclusively female athletes from multiple different sports.

“You are an athlete. It doesn’t matter what your gender is,” Gradle said. “You belong in a gym, you belong in this school and it’s not just for male athletes.” 

After the first group of cheerleaders took the course, some junior varsity cheerleaders followed in their footsteps, and Gradle said the entire cheer squad was less worried about working out in a gym overall.

Gradle clarified that while taking Strength Training is highly encouraged, it’s not forced upon the athletes. If a cheerleader cannot fit the course into their schedule, Gradle works with them to find an outside of school training solution.

“It’s not like we’re mandating this as the only end all be all,” Gradle said. “They’re students first too.”

“It’s not like we’re mandating this as the only end all be all. They’re students first too.” ”

— Abbey Gradle

Melody Hollenbeck, senior, became a varsity cheerleader her junior year, the same year varsity was encouraged to take Beginning Strength Training. After the team found the class beneficial, the coaches encouraged the team to sign up for the Advanced Strength Training course the next school year.

“I definitely like having a built in exercise class,” Hollenbeck said. “But it’s definitely going to be a relief to have another period in my schedule where I can do homework or more college stuff.”

Hollenbeck signed up for Advanced Strength Training in January 2018 while filling out her course request for her senior year. However, because of a miscommunication with her guidance counselor and the addition of Advanced Strength Training to her schedule, she forgot to build in time to take U.S. Government, which is required to graduate. 

As a result, Hollenbeck now has to take U.S. Government online through the Springfield Public School District. She looks forward to completing the course so she will have fewer obligations in her schedule. 

Despite the challenges, Hollenbeck said the benefits of taking the class were definitely noticeable and improved the team’s overall fitness.

“We started doing miles as a team during the summer, and we noticed our endurance has been a lot greater,” Hollenbeck said. “You normally wouldn’t think strength and conditioning would help endurance, but we noticed a huge difference.”

Endurance was a focus, however, for Michael Stewart, P.E. teacher, who said the Strength Training curriculum doesn’t focus exclusively on physically taxing sports like football, but instead aims to develop  good overall athletes. 

“We do focus on a lot of the things that [the cheerleaders] need like strong shoulders, great core and strong lower bodies to really develop a strong cheerleader so that they can be successful,” Stewart said.

The two classes of Advanced Strength Training Stewart teaches contain most of the varsity cheerleaders who joined after taking Beginning Strength Training last school year.

“It took a little bit to get them comfortable and let them build their own confidence, but they did a great job,” Stewart said. “This year, I think they had all that confidence coming into the class and the learning curve wasn’t so sharp, so they could get after it right away and start adding weight quicker.”