Dedicated, hardworking, athletic—how one cheerleader describes his first-place squadFeb 24, 2021 12:59PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Before the Huskies JV cheer squad took the floor at state, they were uneasy.
“We all were nervous. If you caught the video, our faces say it all,” said the squad’s lone male cheerleader, Dominic Rojas.
The freshman also was telling himself, ‘don’t drop anything,’ especially his teammate Tyler Harving, who he elevates in the one-man lift.
Even though Hillcrest was performing on its home floor as they hosted the state championship in the school’s new sports complex, the Huskies didn’t have the house packed with fans since nobody was allowed during the competition because of the safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the competition was livestreamed.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking because when you go out there, there’s three other teams waiting to go before you. They all watch our performance and you feel pressured to do your best or they’ll judge you,” he said, but added the lack of fans actually didn’t distract them. “The judges are so precise down to where your eyes are so if you’re not looking at a set, you get docked points. So, we’re not really allowed to look at the stands, only during the dance.”
However, Rojas said the squad was happy with its performance.
“It went really good; every single one of our sets hit,” he said.
That was good enough for the judges as the JV squad took first place in the 5A co-ed show category, earning themselves a banner—the first state banner that is expected to be hung in the school’s new athletic complex.
The varsity squad finished just out of the top three, but the pom/song squad placed second the sideline/timeout dance and third in song-leading/pom routine.
Rojas is a first-time cheerleader. After learning that he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in drill, as the Utah High School Activities Association limits that to female students to provide a balance of athletic opportunities under Title IX, he decided to try out for cheer, which doesn’t fall under UHSAA guidelines.
“I really wanted to be involved in high school with everything. I didn’t want to have graduated and regret not doing anything in high school. The thought of competing with the cheer squad is really what I wanted to do,” he said.
Without knowing much about it, Rojas tried out. He had three years of dancing hip hop, contemporary and modern experience at Union Middle School as the only male member of the dance company.
“I like moving my body and expressing myself,” he said. “I like being the center of attention and being the only boy, people look at you because you kind of stand out.”
However, Rojas learned from middle to high school, there was a jump in dedication and practice.
“At Union Middle School’s dance company, the only real practices are a class period during the day for an hour. With this team, it’s every other day for four hours and in summer, it was at 6 a.m. when you’d run for a mile or a mile and one-half, and then go four hours with little to no break. After school, we have games and stuff that we get to go cheer at,” he said.
Rojas also has practiced on his own at home, adding that the entire squad is dedicated and puts in long hours. For example, he said it took three weeks to learn the one-man lift, where he learned to keep his back straight as he pops Harving up, holding her by her feet above his head.
“I’ve learned a lot of self-discipline,” he said, which has helped him balance the sport with his homework. “We need to have a lot of athleticism. People don’t always see it, but we’re doing our cheers and doing movements, and it takes a lot of energy. You have to have a lot of endurance built up to do cheer and you have to be strong when you’re lifting people in the air.”
While the cheer squads are in groups, so coaches can contact trace them, Rojas has cheered at football games, wrestling meets, girls basketball and boys JV basketball games this year where he can perform some of his favorite cheers such as “Hillcrest, We Can Do It” and “Fight.”
“Performing is one of my favorite parts about cheer. You work so hard and then you get to perform for a crowd and that’s so rewarding,” he said.
Rojas follows in the footsteps of his mother and stepdad, both who have been cheerleaders.
“I just wanted to keep that going, and I wanted to be part of a team. We have practices, competitions, make new friends that normally we could hang out with or have a party with. There’s always something to do and it’s really fun,” he said.
His mother, Gabriella, is proud of her son and his accomplishments.
“I’ve just been really impressed with how committed and dedicated he was,” she said. “He wanted to be on the dance company at Union and he got his grades up and tried out and made it. Then, he said, ‘I want to do cheer’ and said what he wanted to do, then went for it and is doing it. I’m proud because, especially being a boy, there’s not many guys who would just try and do that.”