Okinawa youth show off their spirit at cheerleading exchange
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Cheerleaders for youth sports here are giving Japanese girls something to shout about.
Kadena Youth Sports hosted a first-ever cheerleader exchange during a football game halftime show last month. Panther cheerleaders teamed with almost two dozen Japanese — girls from Okinawa City who volunteered for the program — to shake pompoms and dance their way into cultural exchanges between the two groups.
“This was the first time historically they’ve even taken part in cheerleading and seen American football,” said Lisa Faust, a volunteer coordinator for the Panther cheerleaders. “They had a ton of questions about how the game was played.”
Girls from the two squads started working together three weeks before the weekend game, to learn the basics, Faust said. Cheerleaders from Kadena High School and the youth team worked on chants and pompom routines, eventually escalating to stunts.
The U.S. hosts traveled to Okinawa City to train their Japanese counterparts. They worked through language barriers, Faust said, that unexpectedly were not a stumbling block.
“It really wasn’t a problem,” she said. “We had translators, but most of the time when you were face-to-face and demonstrating the moves, the Japanese girls picked it up rather quickly.”
Two Kadena High School cheerleaders, Allison Blodgett and Julie McAlexander, volunteered to coach the Japanese team. It was a daunting task they both took on without a second thought.
“I helped out because I thought the Japanese girls should have a chance to cheer,” said Allison, a 16-year-old junior. “We had the translators, but mostly communicated with hand movements. They were pretty good. They wanted to learn and picked it up pretty quickly.”
The cheers the Kadena High cheerleaders passed on were basic ones. The dance routines were a little more complex — but that didn’t slow the Japanese girls.
“We taught them and they had it,” explained Julie, a 16-year-old junior. “They had to have been practicing pretty hard because when we came back for more practices, they remembered everything.”
Still, the crash course on cheerleading did impart a new respect for the sport. “I think the Japanese girls didn’t expect the workouts to be as hard as they were,” Faust said. “They were a little sore afterwards.”
But aches and pains didn’t slow them either, said Karina Hanashiro, from Okinawa City Hall’s cultural promotions section.
“Every one of the girls was excited to practice,” Hanashiro said. “They practiced every day at school as well as the clinics.”
Kadena’s Youth sports donated uniforms for the Japanese girls to wear. At the game, both squads performed together, creating human pyramids and chanting cheers in English.
The venture was a first for the Japanese girls, but it might not be the last. Hanashiro said Okinawa City constantly strives to get Japanese and U.S. cultures to mix, and if this year’s clinics were an indicator, cheerleading might return.
“I think they had a real good time,” Hanashiro said. “It’s possible we could do this again.”