Last year, Oakdale High School Cheer Coaches, Heather Vieira, Sherry Kupper, and Melissa Xavier, started the Mini Mustang cheer clinic where little girls in grades K-6 would cheer for the first half of a home varsity Mustang game with the Mustang cheerleaders as well as perform the half-time show. The coaches had modest expectations but were blown away when 116 little girls participated.
This year? Well, let’s just say, within the first 15 minutes of sign-ups, the coaches knew they’d need to order more T-shirts.
“I was amazed…in total shock,” Vieira said. “We had 100 girls signed up within the first 15 minutes. At that moment we knew it was going to be huge. We went into panic mode but it was very exciting. Immediately, we called Cen-Cal Apparel for more shirts and in spite of the short notice, he really stepped to the plate.”
The Mini Mustang clinic pulled in 258 little girls, the biggest and most overwhelming show of support for the cheer program the coaches have ever seen and they’re already planning the third clinic.
“The first year we thought, maybe, we’d have 40 to 50 girls,” Vieira said, adding that this year they warned the Sports Boosters so they could prepare more food. “Last year, there were so many more people than expected that the snack shack ran out of food.”
More people, more food, more ticket sales equals happy bookkeepers all around as the Mini Mustang clinic packed The Corral for the Friday, Sept. 20 game against visiting Paraclete. Spectators were spilling out onto the visitor side of the stadium as seating space was at a premium with so many people packed in like sardines on the home side.
The idea for the clinic came when Vieira and Kupper visited neighboring schools during the summer and noted the popularity of the mini clinics. Both Escalon High School and Sierra in Manteca host successful mini cheer clinics. The Oakdale coaches were interested but weren’t entirely sure how to make it work in Mustang territory.
“We made up the clinic on our own,” Kupper said. “We only saw the finished result, not the actual camp. We tried to put it all together from what we’d seen.”
And judging by the happy, silly smiles on every cute face out there (as well as the proud parents crowding the stands) they did a great job.
The success of the clinic represents many things to the cheerleaders and their coaches — for one, it means they can actually hold an end-of-the-year banquet for the girls and two, they can pull from a reserve if the need arises, rather than scrambling at the last minute.
Such as what happened last year when the Mustangs battled Serra in the State bowl down south. At the time there was no money in the budget to take the cheerleaders and if not for the mad dash fundraising blitz, the girls would’ve been watching the game from their living rooms, rather than cheering from the sidelines.
“Our town made such an impact at the State game and it wouldn’t have been right if the girls hadn’t been able to cheer for the boys,” Kupper said. “Now, we’ll have money for those kinds of things, as well as perks for the girls.”
Coaches, much like teachers, often dip into their own pocket for their students. Now that they have a little money in the bank, incentives for the girls will no longer have to come from the coaches’ wallet.
“The money will also go to pay for stunt clinics,” Kupper said. “We pay Starstruck to come out and teach us new stunts and how to do them safely.”
Vieira added, “Because of last year’s clinic we were able to have our banquet catered!”
While the money is great, the impact on the little girls and their big girl mentors is truly golden.
“We always tell the girls that they are being an inspiration to the little girls and because of that, they have to hold themselves to a higher standard,” Vieira said. “The (older) girls had a great time. I loved watching them interact with the little girls; they were really great.”
An unexpected benefit? Giving the older girls a new appreciation for their coaches’ hard work. Vieira laughed, saying, “They were, like, this is hard work!”
At the end of the day, the coaches hope the little girls go away with more than just a T-shirt and a few cute pictures — something that will stay with them for rest of their lives.
“Our hope is that they leave with a love for cheer,” Kupper said. “We want it to be a memorable experience that they will always cherish.”