Spreading the cheer

Fort Dodge Senior High cheerleaders exemplified the principles of Rachel’s Challenge at cheer camp this summer.

Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide effort inspired by Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine shooting massacre in Colorado in 1999, extols inclusion and acts of kindness. The effort was adopted by the Fort Dodge Community School District in January.

KC Williams, FDSH cheer coach, said she worked to continue the endeavor into the summer.

“My assistant coach, Julie Springer, and myself decided that it would become a project for the cheer squad to continue working on that throughout the summer and throughout this year,” Williams said.

Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, applauded their efforts.

“I think it helps set an example, a model of not only how our students should act but how we as adults and people in our community should act and exemplify those characteristics,” he said.

The effort began with pairing the older cheerleaders with younger ones, Williams said.

“We kind of do this every year, kind of a little sister or little brother program,” she said. “But it was in the attempt to give them a positive person, somebody there to role model, somebody there to give them a little bit extra encouragement when they needed it,” she said.

Cheerleaders already are required to do community service.

“We upped that this year and they have to give back at least 10 hours for each season they cheer,” Williams said. “Many of our cheerleaders had that done before they even started this season.”

With cheer camp, Williams said, an opportunity came to go further and practice Rachel’s Challenge.

“We’re in a cheer camp of about 250, 300 other cheerleaders and we gave our cheerleaders each a gel bracelet that said accept the challenge, start a chain reaction,” she said. “We gave them each one because they all showed some of the characteristics of Rachel’s Challenge.”

The cheerleaders were challenged to take two bracelets to three other cheerleaders, coaches or people at the camp with those same characteristics, Williams said.

“They were to give that person the bracelet, but also give them an extra one with a little piece of paper that kind of explains it so they would pass it on, hopefully into their community,” she said.

By the end of camp, Williams said, more than 90 percent of the cheerleaders at the camp knew about the effort.

“Many of them had the bracelets, many of the coaches are coming and talking to us, taking the idea back with them,” she said. “It was just an outreach to see if we could start our own chain reaction.”

Williams said she was proud of her cheerleaders.

“These guys have done a really good job,” she said. “At first I think they were a little skeptical, they didn’t know how other towns would perceive them, but once they started talking about it and why they were chosen, everybody just kind of got on the bandwagon and it was just something everybody wanted to be a part of.”

When Rachel’s Challenge was introduced, it was Van Zyl’s hope, he said, that it would spread beyond the school district.

“That was the whole thought behind this process, the whole reason we wanted to have partnerships in the community,” he said. “We thought this was something that would continue to take place in our community.”