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IN GOOD SPIRITS

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IN GOOD SPIRITS By Allyson Marrs

She's not just the coach. Nope, Cindy Pardee is also a psychologist, a mom, a doctor, a hairstylist and a purse. Sounds impressive, which it is, considering she wears all these different hats while working with 34 teenage girls.

"We have our hands in everything," she said of being a coach. "My job is to basically have them performance-ready. That's my focus."

Before Cindy started helping the girls learn to flip, she was flying. She started as a gymnast then moved to cheerleading in high school, although she continued to balance both until college, where she eventually dropped gymnastics—an uneven bar fear. From high school, Cindy packed her pompoms to Southern California and cheered collegiately. She even spent a year post-grad cheering for a professional football team.

5 REFLECTIONSBut unlike most people, who couldn't say this, she had the most fun in high school.

"You met your friends there. You learned lessons there. You had great people leading you there." She couldn't say the same necessarily for professional cheer, where she said dance and cheer became convoluted. "You're not doing the stunting or hitting the crowd. It's more entertainment, less performing."

And during her days, she relished the opportunity to perform. Maybe it was because she literally got to soar through the air (she was the flyer) or perhaps it's just the adrenaline that comes from competing with yourself and your capabilities. "Our rules were a lot more flexible. We were doing things that now you wouldn't even think about doing," Cindy said. "They're really trying to make the sport safe."

Cindy decided to finally put her megaphone in the corner, get married and have three children. "I've been whacked in the head enough," she said, laughing. "I could still do a killer handstand, though. As long as there was a good wall there."

But there wasn't much time for that megaphone to collect dust. Her husband was running the Junior Wolverine football program through the Boys and Girls Club, and during a game, she watched as her two young daughters stood on the sidelines cheering for their brother. An idea took hold soon after.

"We intended to do something just to have some fun and keep the kids busy," Cindy said of her and a friend putting together an All-Star team for local girls to compete. "But we went out and started winning every competition."

With every year, the group doubled, and it just became too big. It was leading in a direction Cindy didn't want to take herself (opening a gym), so she handed over the poms and took a job as Bellevue High School's coach. That was six years ago, and now, Cindy has two "member of the year" awards, a Washington State Cheer Coaches Association Coach of the Year award and a spot in the Hall of Fame. She's also on the executive board of the Washington State Coaches Association.

All of these accomplishments took more than a little tumbling and smiles. When Cindy's around the girls, she has an effortless connection with them. One minute, she'll be delivering an ice pack to cool a girl down, and the next, she'll be re-tying a bow in a ponytail. "When you're around the girls long enough, you start to read them," she said. "It's fun getting to know them. They're all different people."

But because they're all high school students, the learning that takes place is more than memorizing a high-energy routine. "The best part is watching the kids grow. It's being able to watch young athletes grow and become fantastic adults. At the same time, it's understanding that they're in high school and they'll make mistakes. We want them to make mistakes here so we can help them move on," Cindy said.

The girls have a lot to think about—3.5 GPAs, arm movements, dance steps and cheers—and they make stellar commitments to the squad. Cindy is quite proud, since the girls really only have July and winter break off from practice. "They're doing 10 things at once. Time management is huge," Cindy said.

"Beyond the classroom, our team members are athletes. This isn't 1950s rah-rah. The squad trains year round; they must be in good shape to execute the skills that cheerleading now requires." That includes passing the Army fitness test.

"These girls work their butts off," Cindy said. It's paid off.

BHS took second in state back in January, with only two points separating them from the coveted spot. On her way to the competition that winter, Cindy received a phone call saying her step-father had passed away. She called her daughter Amanda and had her handle the competition while Cindy made her way back home.

"I was crossing Deception Pass and that's when the girls hit the floor, and they did fantastic! I could hear everyone in the background. I saw the sun going down, and I'm thinking I've had the ups and lows today. They all stepped up to the plate and said, 'We can do this.' And they did it.

"Every competition is special, but the circumstances of that day really highlighted what an amazing community we have," Cindy said.

But don't go thinking those competitions are scenes from the movies. "Competitions are very, very different than what you see at games. The cheerleaders are the game." So while cheering for the home team and getting the crowd excited and involved in the fun is all for the spectators, Cindy says, "Competition is for us."

The squad is scored on stunting, tumbling, dance and cheer, and Cindy has tumbling instructors and choreographers come in year round to help the girls prepare. But with all these hours, and all of this intense practice, cheerleading is still considered an extracurricular activity, not a sport, since there's no "winner" when they're not at a competition.

"Cheerleading is trying to figure out what it is right now. Are you a sport? Are you not?" Cindy said. Regardless, the girls continue to work hard, and may soon be adding national competitions to their roster.

Beyond the blue mat, Cindy and her squad are heavily involved in the community. "High school cheerleaders wear two hats: one being the competition side, and the other being the spirit/community side," Cindy said.

Each year, during a special football game, the girls help raise money for Susan G. Komen. They also work with the future generation of cheerleading with the Junior Wolverine Cheerleaders, and host the Junior Cheer Clinic. They've done food drives, performed at the Boys and Girls Club kickoff breakfast and raised money for the Natalie Razore Rockstar fund.

It involves a whole lot more than passing a spirit stick around. "Spirit, passion and a commitment to helping others turned our tiny deeds into big impacts," Cindy said, with more than 215 hours of community service logged last year.

All of this, and all of the girls, contribute to Cindy's love for her job.

"There have been a lot of little wows," Cindy said of her favorite moments. "Like now." Cindy looked over her shoulder at the girls during a training camp, on yet another hour of practicing a new routine. "Watching them work really hard to put something together—to realize not everything is going to be handed to them. It's a hard thing to learn."


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