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Boys join girls on prep cheerleading squads

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From left, Manteca High cheer squad member Juanzin Espejel and senior captain Lanet Miranda display their school spirit.


POSTED March 1, 2014 1:14 a.m.

Cheer takes dedication, commitment and hard work.

Team work, like any sport, is a top priority here, according to Manteca High cheer advisor Lisa Quaresma.

“Cheer isn’t just cheers and dancing anymore. There’s so much acrobatics that they now have to be strong enough to catch the other cheerleader being tossed, flipped or thrown,” she said.

For that, Quaresma is thankful to have Juanzin Espejel on this year’s squad. He’s the first male cheerleader at MHS in recent years.

Coed cheer squads are nothing new. Espejel, who is a MHS senior, went so far as to research the school’s history. “They had three (boy cheerleaders) in 1969,” he said on Friday.

In the Valley Oak League, MHS, Weston Ranch, East Union and Lathrop are among the schools with one or more male cheerleaders.

More boys than ever are getting involved in cheer, which, incidentally, is gaining recognition as a sport. Some schools are offering college scholarships.

At Lathrop High, this year was a series of first.

For starters, the Spartans hosted their first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff game on Wednesday.

They beat Mariposa, thus, earning their first postseason win for the boys varsity basketball program.

Along the way, they exhibited the spirit and enthusiasm not seen since the school opened in 2008.

Caught up in the mix of the Spartan fanatics dressed in the school colors of black and gold flooding mid court following the playoff victory was senior Brandon Palacpac.

He’s the first male cheerleader at Lathrop High. Since his sophomore year, he wanted to join the cheer squad.

“We just couldn’t afford it,” said Palacpac, who had a goal of blazing a new trail at LHS.

The cost was $900. With it covered cheer camp and the uniform, which, according to Palacpac, is significantly lower in price than what girls pay for their wear.

Lanet Miranda, who is the MHS senior captain, recalled spending $1,300 her first year.

“It’s always expensive that first year because you have to buy the uniform, too,” she said. “The cost goes down after that.”

Espejel recently concluded his first and only season on the cheer squad. He enjoyed a good run as the Buffaloes made it to the CIF Division 2 Northern California championship game while the boys varsity basketball team also reached the post season.

“Some of those games were nerve wracking,” recalled Espejel, who is preparing for the upcoming swim season. “But in cheer, it’s easier (to get the crowd involved) when the team is winning.”

He had several reasons for wanting to join the MHS cheer squad. But advisor Quaresma along with Miranda both got a kick to discover that Espejel was also inspired by the 2000 sports comedy ‘Bring it On.’

Not surprising that one of the highlights of this past year for him was cheer camp at University of California, Berkeley.

He had another reason for wanting to join the cheer squad. “I liked being around the girls,” Espejel said.

For boys – or any first timers, for that matter – learning the routines can be tough.

“The timing is so crucial. If you’re just a little bit off or make just a simple mistake, you can really hurt someone,” Palacpac said.

He excelled at dancing. “Brandon has even choreographed some our numbers,” said Irene Munguia, who is the assistant cheer coach at LHS.

At an early age, Palacpac proudly moved to the rhythm.

“I danced everywhere – I like dancing because it allows me to express myself, individually,” he said.

Vice Principal Bill Pinol, for one, took notice at Palacpac’s physical prowess.

“Brandon is strong, athletic, and has the size of a (football) lineman,” he said. “I’ve watched him grow (as a person) all four years here.”

More importantly, Pinol sees the confidence Palacpac has developed thanks in part to cheer. “He really feels accepted,” he said.

Palacpac eventually hopes to do college cheer. But he knows there’s a lot of work ahead to get to that point.

“There’s more flips, tumbles and pyramids,” he said. “You have to be very athletic – it takes years of work.”

Munguia noted that Palacpac has been an asset to the cheer program in so many ways. In terms of stunts, his power and strength allows the squad to take on tougher maneuvers.

Ditto that for Espejel at MHS. He applauded the power and strength of his teammates, in particular, Miranda.

“Lanet can do a one-man pyramid (picking up Espejel),” Quaresma said.

Added Miranda: “I had to hold him up by his big (expletive) feet.”

Espejel was not only shocked that a girl of her diminutive size was able to hoist up his 138-pound frame but, at the same time, was “nervous at being held that high up,” he said.

Quaresma has cheer tryouts in another month. By all indications, more boys are looking to try out for next year’s squad.

“Juanzin has broken some barriers,” said Quaresma. “I think other boys are starting to catch on that cheer is not only a cool thing to do but it’s also fun.”

Some of the stud athletes on campus can attest to that.

“Each year, we do a guy / girl routine at halftime of a basketball game,” Quaresma said. “This year we had nine boys participate.

“They really enjoyed it and kept saying that they have a new-found respect for cheerleaders – What they do is a lot of work.”

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