Bringing cheer back to Albert Lea

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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Rain wouldn’t stop Anne Sternhagen from leading 14 girls entering seventh through 10th grades through the second day of a three-day cheer camp Wednesday morning.

Like any athlete does, they just had to adjust practice, which meant instead of holding camp outside of the high school at Hammer Field, it was in one of the gyms at Brookside Education Center.

“We are running a camp through Community Ed to see, to get a little bit of interest to see who was interested,” said Sternhagen, head coach of the new high school cheer team.

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Sternhagen has a unique background, as she cheered on the high school team when she was a student over 20 years ago. For her, cheering allowed students an opportunity to be with friends.

“I did basketball one year, hockey for three years and football,” she said, noting she started after seeing her friends doing it.

According to Sternhagen, Albert Lea Superintendent Ron Wagner was a big advocate for bringing the activity back.

And after seeing the posting, she applied and was hired.

During the camp — an event put in place to get things started — Sternhagen led the girls, open to any students entering seventh through 12th grade, through basics of cheer, including jumps, hand movements and the Albert Lea fight song.

She also wanted students to know what cheer is about, as most students didn’t know because it had been eliminated at the district 12 years ago.

“Hopefully all these girls that came out for the camp will register for fall cheer,” she said.

Initially, the focus will be on cheering for football this fall and basketball in the winter. Next spring, there will be tryouts, and Sternhagen plans to add cheering for hockey, wrestling and potentially soccer.

So far, everything she has heard about the efforts to bring back cheer was good.

“There’s so many people excited to have cheer back, which is awesome,” she said. “There’s a lot of people behind us.”

Annikah Boyer, who has friends at other schools with cheer programs, will be a ninth-grade student this fall.

“I thought it was something fun to do with friends and just a new, cool experience cause cheer hasn’t been here for a long time,” she said.

Ava Prihoda, whose mother was in cheer when she was in school, will be a seventh grader this fall.

Her mother’s advice: Try your hardest and don’t overthink it.

So far, camp was going well for her.

Joselyn Flink always imagined being on the cheer team, despite the district not having one throughout her time in the district.

“I was super excited cause I’ve always wanted to do it, and I’ve heard about it being fun,” she said.

The camp has also provided her an opportunity to meet new people.

Flink will be an eighth grader this fall.

Besides Sternhagen, Kasey Roskos — a special education teacher at Albert Lea High School — helped run the camp as assistant cheer coach. Roskos served on the cheer team throughout her time at Black River Falls High School in Wisconsin.

She decided to serve as a coach because she wanted to bring it back to the district and was hopeful the camp would get people interested.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “It’s been fun getting to know everyone, teaching them new things,” she said, noting it was both similar and different than when she was in cheer.

Sternhagen’s favorite part: Seeing girls participating and learning new things.

“Some of them are really going out of their comfort zone, which is awesome,” she said.

The camp, run through Albert Lea Community Education, is held from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Cheer registration is also open for the fall through the activities page on the high school website. And while there weren’t any boys participating at the camp, cheer is also available to them as well.

Besides serving as cheer coach, Sternhagen is a secretary at Hawthorne Elementary School, and she coaches at the Albert Lea Figuring Skating Club.