BLACKFOOT – For years, all that it took to be a cheerleader at a high school was the vote of the students of the school. There were not a lot of responsibilities for the cheerleaders and it was little more than a popularity contest.

The football team’s captain usually had his girlfriend on the team as did the basketball team’s captain and the baseball team’s as well. Sometimes there would be someone from the band that would get selected or the best friend of one of the other members of the squad.

The squads usually didn’t have more than six or seven members and they showed up with their short skirts and did cheers at the games.

In today’s world, it is much more than just cheering at games.

This is the first part of a six-part series on “What It Takes To Be a Cheerleader” and will be shared with everyone in Bingham County.

The first stop in this series will be with Blackfoot High School and their cheerleading coordinator and advisor Christa Stufflebeam and her assistant coach Heather Grimmett.

“I think that the first word that comes to mind when looking to find a cheerleader is work ethic,” Stufflebeam said. “We expect so much from these girls during the course of the year that they have to have a great work ethic, they must be committed and they must have athletic ability.”

Today’s world of cheerleading is much more evolved than just cheering. They must be able to do dance routines and tumble and to perform lifts and there is some real work involved in getting to that point.

“I look for commitment from each of the girls,” Grimmett said. “If they are not willing to make sacrifices to this team just like any athlete has to, they won’t last through the first season.”

The time commitment alone can be overwhelming to the cheerleader of this era. At Blackfoot High School, the fall alone requires that the team be available for football games, home volleyball games, assemblies and be able to be at events like the senior nights for boys’ and girls’ soccer.

In the winter months, they must be available for all home basketball games, both boys and girls and of course the senior nights for wrestling and assemblies.

The spring time is the only time that they don’t have as much time commitment, but there is the commitment to be available to travel for the district and state competitions. Competitions are what this era has brought to cheerleading.

“Our big goal is getting ready for the district and state competitions,” Stufflebeam said. “District competition is usually held in late February or early March with the state competition being held in late March.”

That doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. There are three different disciplines that the team must prepare for and each carries its own rewards. A year ago the team’s goal was to prepare for one specific routine and they ended up doing more and qualifying for more than one routine for the state competition. Now that they have done that, the bar has been raised and there is no going back. There will be higher expectations for the team in this year and years to come.

“Once we were able to make the commitment to have more than one discipline and routine be successful, it creates bigger expectations for the following year,” Stufflebeam said. “We have to be better and evolve more as a program each year and that puts a bigger burden on the team and coaches.”

There is also the need to be able to deal with communication issues and personality conflicts and problems with parents and every program deals with things differently.

“We don’t have many problems with communication or conflicts because the girls know that we won’t put up with them,” Stufflebeam said. “As for parents, we sign a contract with the parent and the student explaining what the expectations are and how we will deal with them and any conflicts that arise.”

So far, the program has been flourishing and expanding with each year.

Last April, when the team began tryouts for this year’s team, there were 50 who made the choice to try out. Thirty-five of them made the cut and are part of the team. There are drills and practices that go on nearly year-round and that alone is quite the commitment.

“As coaches, we are going year-round with this program,” Stufflebeam said. “The girls are probably active for nine or 10 months of that time and part of the summer they are going to camps and so forth, so it is a big commitment of time and effort.”

Thankfully for the Blackfoot cheerleaders, it has been an award winning program and one that is on the rise. They are athletic, energetic and ambitious and look forward to adding to the trophy case as they continue to evolve as a championship caliber program.