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Seniors look back with good cheer

Fairmont High School senior cheerleaders will wrap up their regular season duties tonight when the Cardinal football team faces New Ulm at 7 p.m. at Mahoney Field. Pictured, front row from left: Madison Militello and Hailey Meyers; and back row: Josee Varboncoeur, Nyka Campbell and Stephanie Young. Not pictured: Kassandra Lopez.

When Fairmont High School’s senior cheerleaders are together, it quickly becomes evident that these young women have spent a lot of time in each other’s company.

Conversations are infused with an abundance of giggles and laughter. They finish each other’s sentences, and they often give identical statements in unison.

Stephanie Young, Hailey Meyers, Josee Varboncoeur, Nyka Campbell and Madison Militello recently reflected on their time together. The sixth senior member of the group, Kassandra Lopez, was absent due to a mid-term nursing test in her post-secondary education class.

Young and Campbell say Meyers was responsible for their initial involvement in cheerleading when the trio started classes at FHS in seventh grade. Responding to that statement with a laugh and a shrug, Meyers said her mother had encouraged her to try out.

“I just took my friends along,” she said.

Lopez always wanted to be a cheerleader. When she transferred to FHS from Madelia at the end of seventh grade, just in time for spring tryouts, she fulfilled that aspiration.

Varboncoeur and Militello started at FHS after attending elementary school at St. John Vianney School. Neither planned to tryout for cheerleading but changed their minds after their parents encouraged them.

When asked how they felt about cheering for their last game, the girls react with a collective “oh my gosh.”

“That just makes me sad,” Varboncoeur added.

Factoring in their eight hours of practice each week and travel time to and from away games, the girls spend a lot of time together cheerleading, and they carry on that unity beyond school activities. They refer to themselves as a second family.

“I think we spend more time together than with our regular families,” Militello said.

As with every family, they have disagreements but band solidly together when faced with a challenge, like when other students threw food at them as a show of disrespect.

“That really hurt,” Varboncoeur said.

“It was kind of hard sometimes over the years because some of the students didn’t respect us or what we did,” Young said.

During such times, their coach, Deb Heinrich, offered the girls support and advice: Just suck it up. They heeded that advice, and the situation has improved.

“The last couple of years, it’s been much better for us. Letting it roll off your back is the best option,” Campbell said.

In addition to the occasional emotional discomfort, the girls also dealt with their fair share of physical discomfort. Members of the team suffered a dislocated thumb, back injuries, neck injuries, dislocated ribs and a concussion, as well as countless bruises. They took it all in stride as part of their physical and stunt training.

“Keep working hard because it will pay off, whether it’s grades, sports or attitudes,” said Meyers, offering advice to the underclassmen.

As their coach, Heinrich said it has been a rewarding experience to see the girls grow and mature.

“They worked through many ups and downs, and all have risen to the occasion to help each other out. It’s been really cool to watch,” she said. “They’ve been together for six years so they’re more like siblings than teammates. They have just really bonded.”

The practice each year is to select two cheerleaders as squad captains, but this year, no one was singled out for that duty.

“I didn’t want to have six captains, and each girl brought her gifts and talents to the squad in some area,” Heinrich said.

One excelled in choreography. Others handled starting lineups. Some were artists. Another was in charge of strength training and conditioning.

“They all have such great leadership skills that I wanted them all to share that throughout the season,” Heinrich said.

She is grateful for the support of the girls’ families and the community that was generous during the squad’s fundraising efforts, and she is especially grateful for the girls’ commitment and work ethic over the past six years.

“They’re really going to be missed. There will be some big shoes to fill next year,” Heinrich said.

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