Murray High cheerleaders have something to cheer aboutSep 15, 2021 01:26PM ● By Julie Slama
After earning a first-place finish at nationals last spring, Murray High cheerleaders lead the crowd in cheers in their season-opening football game win over Hillcrest High. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Murray High’s cheerleaders have been in parades, on the fields, competing on the mats, and visible in the community.Cheer coach Lia Smith loves that.
“I just really want to reach out to the community and just let them know that Murray cheer is here,” she said. “We want to be more involved. We want to do service projects. We want to do community events. We want to support the 5K. We want to be that group of students that makes everyone feel loved and be a part of Murray High School.”
Last spring, the cheer squad volunteered to cheer at the regional unified soccer tournament — not just for Murray High, but for every school participating.
“We loved it and I had parents coming up to me, just so excited that we were supporting those unified athletes,” she said, adding that she is working on getting some unified cheerleaders on the sidelines. “Our team had fun. They picked cheers that could easily be done for other schools.”
They marched in the Murray July 4th parade and last year won the varsity intermediate and JV notice West Coast national competition in show.
It hasn’t been an easy road.
After a couple years of instability with the demands of coaching, Smith, who was fairly new to Murray High at the time, could tell her cheerleading students were “visibly upset” in her math classroom. The last coach had just stepped down one week before their first competition.
“They were in crisis mode, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m a gymnast and I did one year of high school cheer for fun. I don’t have the best qualifications, but I can help you get over this until you find a great coach,’” said the former University of Utah Red Rocks gymnast.
With the help of the former coach, who agreed to attend the cheer competition, the team was able to take part in that competition until Smith got safety certified. Then, Smith organized practices and distributed a calendar and “made our way through the rest of the year,” including an 11th-place finish at nationals in California.
“I think they were proud of what they were able to accomplish, even with all the craziness. I just loved the cheerleaders so much and I was enjoying myself and I liked being a coach, so I decided, ‘I guess I’m a cheer coach now,’” she said, reflecting back to the start of her coaching career one-and-a-half years ago.
Then, COVID-19 hit and “We had to shut down, so tryouts got canceled and everything got put on hold or canceled,” she said.
Later, Smith sent out materials to the those who wanted to tryout online. She was able to have tryouts, two at a time, 20 yards between them, on the football field.
“It was insane,” she said. “We had girls that were trying to learn it from the YouTube video, but they learned it mirrored so they did the whole dance right, but it was flipped. So then, the music didn’t quite line up and looking back at it, it was hilarious.”
Even with a rocky start, the Murray High cheerleaders excelled, taking fourth at state and winning show at the West Coast national competition.
“State was in person. There were no spectators, but we were able to be live in front of judges,” she said, adding that there was a livestream link for families to watch. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is for athletes to go out and perform for no-one. It is so hard. You lose some of that adrenaline that really gives you that spark to go out and be like, ‘wow.’
She said it was especially hard when the squad is judged on crowd engagement and how easy it is for the crowd to join in.
“We’re telling the crowd to spell out Spartans with us and the only people doing it are the 10 JV cheerleaders,” she said. “But, there was a huge shift in supporting other athletes, and we’ve seen this with the Olympics, just this year the cheer world has been so enthusiastic about cheering on others. They’re still competing against these other teams, but the cheerleaders are really there to support everyone.”
Building the program is one of Smith’s goals as they recently had a mini-cheer camp, which also allowed her cheer squad to be leaders and role models.
Murray cheerleaders hit the mats this past July, practicing 12 hours weekly. During school, they practice for more than two hours every other day and do morning conditioning on the opposite days.
They plan to compete at the USA regional competition at Cottonwood High in December, northern regionals in mid-January and state on Jan. 22. They will have a prep-nationals competition in early February before competing at the West Coast nationals on Feb. 21.
Last year, cheer was sanctioned by the Utah High School Athletics Association, although this year, they are making the transition and it will remain operating as it has been under the United Spirit Association.
“Our goal is to get a trophy at state – first, second or third – since we just missed the podium last year. We really want to make sure we have a clean routine and be able to compete in nationals,” she said. “We also want to be more a part of our community and look forward to being more involved in it.”