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Tournament brings lively atmosphere to First City
Petersburg and Metlakatla high school varsity girls at the Ketchikan High School gymnasium on Thursday during the Region V Tournament. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

It’s tournament time once again in Ketchikan — which means the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium has the energy of a Friday night basketball game on a Wednesday evening. Even on Wednesday morning, a scaled-down version of that atmosphere was evident.

During the Haines Lady Glacier Bears verses Petersburg Lady Vikings girls basketball game on Wednesday morning, cheerleaders from Petersburg just happened to be cheering “Be aggressive, B-E aggressive,” while a Haines player fell onto the hardwood.

After the game, which Petersburg ended up winning 33-23, Petersburg cheerleader Julia Niemi could be seen right outside the gymnasium checking the tournament schedule on a TV screen.

Niemi has been cheering for three years now. When she was younger, the area where she lived in Oregon didn’t have any cheerleading programs, so she did gymnastics. Niemi moved to Alaska in middle school, when she joined the cheerleading squad and got really into the gymnastics of cheerleading.

Now, Niemi is a tumbler on the squad, and she also does a little basing — otherwise known as lifting her teammates in the air.

“Mostly my job is to run back and forth doing back handsprings,” she said.

The Petersburg High School junior and her squad have been working on the choreography of their floor routine since January. The team doesn’t perform the routine during regular basketball games — but they’re being judged by World Class Cheer, out of California, at the tournament.

Her team’s routine includes an opening, a jump section, a dance and ends in a pyramid. Niemi said she’s pretty excited about the routine, because the squad recently asked their choreographer to increase the difficulty. She’s hoping to win, and said they might find out after the championship game on Saturday.

Although Niemi is looking forward to cheering, tournaments can be a bit exhausting for her. Afterall, cheering two games in a row is no simple undertaking.

“You get really exhausted from all the jumps you do, and you’re like, ‘Oh, don’t shoot that three,’ Niemi laughed. “We still have to smile.”

The opposite side of where Niemi was in the Kayhi commons was turned into a makeshift salon. Cheerleaders from Wrangell could be seen getting their hair curled and doing their makeup, while others were clapping their hands and practicing cheers on Wednesday morning.

Tournament T-shirts were being made hot off the press in the commons, as students with drum sets half of their size squeezed into the door and dropped off their instruments. Several of the pep bands, such as Haines, utilized the Kayhi practice rooms in the music section of the building to house their instruments.

A few of those musicians were sitting inside the cramped practice room on Thursday afternoon, including Haines High School sophomore Ulric Lehman, and freshman Hannah Boron. Lehman plays tenor saxophone, and Boron, the mellophone.

What does it take to be a part of the Haines pep band?

“You need to know how to play an instrument and you’re right on in,” Boron said. “I mean, of course, you’d like to read the music and stuff, but there’s lots of people that play by ear, or even people that can’t play a difficult instrument.”

Such as Haines pep band member, senior Seth Waldo, who plays the cowbells.

Boron said being a part of the pep band is a representation of school spirit, but at the tournament, they’re also representing the community they come from. She added the pep band is there to have fun and cheer everyone on.

“Especially because basketball can be a pretty rough sport, and there can be a lot of (roughness) between teams — but I feel like with pep band, it’s just fun and music and everyone can just play with each other and relax,” Boron said.

Lehman said the role of the Haines pep band at tournaments is to create an environment in the gymnasium, to fill it with music and make the event fun for everyone.

“We say that in pep band, everyone wins,” Lehman laughed.