It's been a cheerleading season like no other for the student athletes at Woodside High School.
The normal group bonding trips to the movie theater in downtown Redwood City, flights to national competitions in Southern California, and performances at Friday night home games have come to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, cheer practices begin with temperature checks. Without physical contact, stunts and tumbling are absent, which both require spotting to prevent injuries.
"It's changed," said Woodside High School cheer coach Jaymie Guillena. "A hundred percent."
It's been a long road to practicing in person for the Woodside cheer team, even with the precautions the team is taking. Guillena said the initial shutdown felt like a "gray area." She said at first she thought the pause of in-person schooling and sports was only going to last for a few weeks, but adapted to the change by teaching cheer on Zoom.
"I had Zoom practices five days a week," she said. "Cheerleading is not meant to be learned through Zoom. My students were struggling."
In the summer, the team was able to resume in-person practice once a week and then two days a week starting in September. Resuming in-person practices involved "a huge thing of hand sanitizer," said Guillena. Two graduated seniors returned to help administer temperature checks. The team now has dedicated pods, as recommended by San Mateo County health guidelines, and some cheer team members choose not to attend in-person practices at all and rely on other team members to remotely teach them the dances.
Guillena describes the lost season as being hard on the team. "I wish I could hug everyone sometimes," said junior and third-year cheerleader Faith Soltero. "And stunting is probably the funnest thing ever and getting your stunt group. You start clicking with people and they become like your little family. So we don't really get that. We're kind of just separated from people."
Guillena has decided not to send the competition team to Nationals, which is scheduled to take place in early March, because she doesn't see the team having enough time to practice.
"It breaks my heart, because I have two seniors on the competition team," said Guillena.
But she remains optimistic and hopes to have her team back to normal soon. "I love the kids. I love the atmosphere. It's great. And my Friday nights there, and I just, I want that back," said Guillena.