Zach Marengo — all-conference football player and 3A Western Slope Conference lineman of the year.
Zach Marengo — all-conference basketball player last year.
Zach Marengo — cheerleader?
Levi Hoaglund — Palisade quarterback who ran and threw for nearly 2,000 yards this season, selected to the all-conference team and voted the back of the year.
Levi Hoaglund — cheerleader?
Marengo and Hoaglund, a pair of 210-pound all-around athletes, wrapped up their season with the Palisade High School cheerleading team that placed sixth in the state coed spirit competition before hopping right into basketball.
Hoaglund, who is one of the cheer team’s captains, is in his third year with the squad. A concussion in the Bulldogs’ final football game of the season sidelined him for the state spirit competition, but he was still with the team, cheering them on in Denver.
Big, burly Bulldogs on the cheerleading squad?
5-6-7-8 — yes, they are, and they say it’s great!
It’s become a tradition for Palisade. For the past six years, Palisade has fielded a coed squad, and most of the boys on the team are also on the football team.
“I just feel like it’s another sport,” Hoaglund says. “It really compares to football as a team sport.”
Takes a commitment
With the state spirit competition conducted in early December, the squad practices throughout the fall. It’s quite a commitment for the football players.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun, too,” Marengo said, excited to talk about his two years with the squad.
With four football players on the squad this year, the cheerleader team practiced one or two days a week in the early morning — 5:45 to 7 a.m.
That takes spirit, yes it does.
The rest of the cheerleading squad also practiced after school, minus the football players.
Marengo smiles when he admits a little bit of teasing is directed at the male cheerleaders.
“It’s not too bad, but there’s some,” he said. “People say we just dance, but we don’t dance, we just throw the girls.”
The big guys throw the girls and, of course, catch them, but some aren’t just big guys throwing girls.
“Some of the guys do some gymnastics and tumbling, too,” Palisade coach Tracy Arledge said.
One of the rough and tumbling football-player-cheerleader guys is 5-foot-5, 160-pound Austin Terry.
Terry played running back and defensive back on the football and was selected to the all-conference team.
“I can do back flips and front flips,” he said. “I just kind of taught myself.”
Before every football game, Terry performed a back flip to get the team fired up.
The other smaller football player on the cheerleading team is Trevor Garcia, who is now wrestling at 145 pounds for the Bulldogs.
The shorter guys still lift and throw the girls, they are just paired with shorter girls.
The cheerleading football foursome all said many of their classmates don’t give cheerleaders enough credit for being athletic.
“You have to be athletic to be a good cheerleader, no doubt,” Terry said.
As a member of the football and track teams, Terry said cheerleading is a welcome shift from the norm.
“I really enjoy doing something different that challenges my athleticism,” he said.
Plus, they all admit it’s not a bad thing to get to hang out with a bunch of girls.
Terry, who’s been on the squad for three years, said he served as the team’s cabbie, getting up at 5 a.m. on practice days to gather up some of the members in his Jeep Liberty.
Arledge coached cheerleading in Texas for three years and liked the athleticism and dynamic of the of coed team. She said strong girls are the foundation of the coed team, but boys bring overall strength and more athleticism to the team. The guys also bring an increased intensity.
“Boys bring a sense of competitiveness, a winning competitiveness,” she said.
In complete bluntness, Arledge said boys who are in other sports are accustomed to intense coaching. She said, like any coach, she has to be firm and direct sometimes, and “boys don’t take it personally.”
But she added, “Boys can be lazy, and the girls tell them to knock it off.”
She said the coed team makes for a great combination in which the genders complement each other.
Arledge started the coed program at the encouraging of her husband, John Arledge.
“Without him, this would never have happened. He really paved the way,” she said.
John Arledge was the Palisade football head coach for nine years, and he encouraged his players to join the cheerleading squad.
“Without his support and him pushing it, we would not have the number of boys participating that we do,” Tracy Arledge said.
As the coordinator of Palisade’s International Baccalaureate program, Tracy Arledge has recruited a number of the program’s student-athletes to join the team. Marengo, Hoaglund and Terry are all in the program.
Arledge said the stigma of boys on the cheerleading team has lessened over the years, but she knows there’s still a little good-natured ribbing.
“I commend them for not letting it bother them and sticking with it,” she said.
Last year, the Bulldogs traveled to California for nationals, but too many scheduling conflicts will keep them at home this year.
Arledge said cheerleading does take athleticism for girls and boys.
“It’s not the same as other sports, but it is athletically demanding,” she said. “It takes coordination, athleticism, the strength to hold body control, and it takes discipline and courage.”
As Hoaglund hefts Zeeda Nkana into the air, then tosses her higher, she’s close to 15 feet in the air before she falls into a waiting cradle catch.
Palisade has had as many as 10 boys on the squad before. This year they had seven with four coming over from the football team, another two from other sports and one who competes solely with the cheerleading team.
A number of former Palisade athletes have gone from the Bulldogs’ cheerleading team to college cheerleading teams.
The state spirit competition was a big success for Palisade. The sixth-place coed finish in the combined 4A/5A classification was good, but it was exceptionally good when considering Palisade was the highest placing 4A school.
Marengo said the experience has given him a much better understanding of the demands on the cheerleaders.
“It’s a big commitment, and it takes a lot of work to be a better cheerleader,” he said.
When classmates actually decide to tease the big, burly Bulldogs for being on the cheerleading squad, Marengo is pretty comfortable communicating his feelings.
“I tell them that it’s one of the most athletic things that I’ve ever done,” he said. “I just tell them they need to shush.”
It’s pretty clear the four senior football players thoroughly enjoyed being part of the cheerleading team.
Arledge said the team has one returning male cheerleader, so she will again look to the football team next year to continue this successful Palisade tradition.
Hoaglund hopes football players in the future will join the team, but he said a coed team has a unique dynamic, and chemistry is a must.
“It has to be the right guy. They have to be a good fit for the team,” he said.
A lot of good Palisade football players have pulled double duty as cheerleaders over the years, and Terry hopes that tradition continues.
“It would be sad if they didn’t. I think it’s a cool thing,” he said.
Big, burly Bulldogs as male cheerleaders?
Give me a Y, give me an E, give me an S — what’s that spell?