Joseph Harris could be considered a trend setter, among local athletes.
As a Washougal High School freshman, he tried out for the varsity cheerleading squad and succeeded.
That was last year, and it took some time for Harris to enjoy being a member of a predominantly female team.
“Being on varsity was scary last year,” he said. “I did not know any of the upperclassmen. If you make the team for cheerleading, you have to wear your uniform on the first day [of school]. I did not really know anybody. This year, I was not scared. I was excited to wear my uniform.
“I like cheerleading,” Harris added. “Even if people had problems with it, I’d still cheer lead. Words are not going to hurt me. As long as I’m having fun, I don’t really care.”
During his freshman year, he was a cheerleader during the football and basketball seasons.
Harris’ family can take some credit for his interest in cheering. They include a female cousin who cheers for Idaho State University and another relative who coached gymnastics.
As a fourth-grade student, Harris enrolled in a beginner tumbling class. He was only in that class for two days before he was promoted to an advanced class — to learn how to do back handsprings and back flips.
“It was just like beginner’s luck,” Harris said.
His athletic background also includes wrestling, basketball, football and soccer.
“I gave those up for cheerleading,” Harris said. “My passion is for cheer.
“Mostly it’s a good thing,” he added. “I think other sports are fun, but I hate how it conflicts with cheerleading. They go on at the exact same time, so I have to choose one or the other.”
Harris is a member of the WHS track team, as he competes in hurdles, discus and high jump.
He has been told he is the first freshman guy to be a varsity cheerleader at WHS. This year, Harris is joined on the varsity squad by James Maguire.
Harris’ influence has also included inspiring a male student to cheer at R.A. Long High School, in Longview.
“Four more guys will try out for it for basketball season [at WHS],” he said. “We should have a really good stunting team, because we’ll have a lot more muscle.”
Harris said he enjoys cheering with the female students.
“It’s fun talking to them,” he said. “It’s fun to joke around. In stunting, we just swap girls out — for flying and basing. My coach loves us.”
There are risks, however, faced by male cheerleaders.
“Spraining our ankles is possible,” Harris said. “If girls flare [fall while in the air], we still grab her and catch her. We absorb as much as we can. We don’t want crashes. I have rolled my ankle in tumbling.”
During a Universal Cheerleading Association summer camp, Harris and Maguire – as well as Vanessa Herrera and varsity co-captain Jenna Connolly — earned All American honors.
Harris, who aspires to cheer in college as well, is looking forward to a trip to the University of Washington campus on Oct. 30. After learning a dance from Huskies cheerleaders, the Washougal squad – along with students from other schools – will cheer during halftime of the UW and Stanford football game.
Maguire, a junior, said he was “nagged” by girls on the squad to participate in the cheerleader tryouts, because his athletic background includes training in Irish dance. He started dancing at the age of 5 and attained championship level status when he was 9.
Maguire traveled to Irish dance competitions all over the western U.S. and British Columbia, as well as the North American Championships in Nashville, Tenn., the All-Ireland Championships in Killarney, Ireland and the World Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He danced with the An Daire Academy of Celtic Arts in Portland and ‘retired’ from competitive Irish Dancing last year.
Maguire admits to enjoying non-conformity.
“It’s a lot of fun getting out in front of people and cheering on our football team,” Maguire said. “It’s also a good workout. I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I get bragging rights to other guys at school because I get to do flashy stunts.”
There are challenges, however, he admits.
“The stunts are really hard to learn and a bit dangerous, and it can be a bit frightening being a base because the flyer I’m supporting could fall if I’m not careful,” Maguire said. “I’ve also gotten a little bit of ribbing about it from other guys, but I don’t care. It’s their loss.
“There is a high risk level for injury if you don’t keep your head in the game the whole time,” he added. “Through a lot of hard work and great teaching from our coaches, we haven’t had any injuries.”
Cheering involves a lot of upper, core and lower body strength – in order to lift someone. Maguire does a lot of push-ups, sit-ups and works out on a Bowflex machine.
He credits Harris for teaching him a lot about being on the varsity squad.
“I would encourage more guys to try out for cheer – despite the fact that most guys think it’s sissy – because it’s not,” Maguire said. “It’s a lot of fun and very challenging, and you’ll make all your other guy friends jealous.”
He expressed a possible interest in cheering on the college level, in order to participate in stunts that are not considered legal for high school cheer squads.
Hunter Nelson, a junior, was a varsity cheerleader during the 2009-10 basketball season.
Anita Williams is the WHS varsity cheer coach. The junior varsity cheer coach is Craig Grable, a former cheerleader for Central Michigan University. He assists the varsity cheer squad with stunting, and he teaches French and physical education at WHS. Grable is also a pole vault coach for the track team.
Connolly appreciates having guys on the cheerleading squad.
“The main thing is they provide a break from the typical girl drama,” she said. “They also provide a lot of the strength, so they can do stunts with other girls. They make [Kayla Ferguson’s] stunts go really high. Overall, they are a lot of fun to have around.”