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Checking in with the Cook County Cheer Club

Cook County High School has seen a reviv­al in school spirit over the last couple of years thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of Leslie Higgins, a cheerleading coach who brought back the squad after a hiatus of over 20 years. A former cheerleader herself, who attended Cook County High School, Coach Higgins is now passing on the tradition and the fun of the sport to a new generation.

The cheerleading program began at the YMCA as a Cheer Club when Coach Higgins’ two twin girls were younger, and it eventually found its way back to the high school. De­spite facing challenges, including a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coach Higgins resumed the squad last year, the girls ranging from seventh to twelfth grade.

The squad expanded when a group of sixth graders expressed interest. “They asked so nicely, I couldn’t say no,” Coach Higgins admitted, emphasizing the inclusive and wel­coming spirit of the team.

The squad focuses on the school’s win­ter sports, cheering primarily for the Cook County Vikings boys’ basketball team, with competitions being a goal in the future. For now, the focus is building teamwork and ca­maraderie. “It’s going well. They’re working really good together and getting to know each other, too. It’s nice,” Coach Higgins shared.

Building confidence is a significant aspect of the cheerleading experience, according to Coach Higgins. “It takes a lot of guts to get in front of a big group of people,” she said. The team members, many of whom are involved in various other extracurricular activities like band, dance, art, music, and plays, find cheer­leading to be another form of art. The girls who are in the dance program also volunteer to help teach younger dancers.

The core of the squad remains consistent each year, with some members having cheered since they were little. “They’re real­ly great kids,” Coach Higgins said, speaking to the girls that have been with her from the beginning of the club who have always been on the honor roll and some even taking advanced classes.

There are nine on the squad this year and Olivia Higgins, an eighth-grader, is glad to be part of the tight-knit team as she likes “mak­ing new friends and to be able to hang out with a group of people who I really enjoy be­ing with.”

Olivia is grateful for and cool with, hav­ing her mom as a coach and appreciates the physicality of the sport. “You have to have the core, the legs, and the arms to pick some­body up, or fly in the air,” she said.

Her teammate, Lilija Smith, also an eighth grader, echoes that sentiment. “It’s a type of sport,” she said. “It’s exercise. And it also helps with confidence because you go up in front of big crowds. It can be scary, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Both encourage fellow students to give cheerleading a try. “Just try it. It’s fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Coach Higgins urges.

The cheerleading program is considered a club and is not sponsored by the school. As such, their biggest challenge is funding. Cheer uniforms are expensive. If you are interested in helping out, contact Leslie through the Cook County Cheer Club Facebook page or email falonphotography@yahoo.com.

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