‘One day’: Young cheerleaders watch, learn and look towards the future

Cheers echoed from a pair of tiny voices near the basketball court Friday and Saturday night. Although they struggled to be heard over the roar of the howling crowds, Ryleigh Alex-Talamaivao, 5, and Ari Simmons, 7, were determined to cheer for Alaska’s high school basketball teams during the 3A/4A state tournament.

Standing on the bottom step of the bleachers at the Alaska Airlines Center, they watched high school cheerleaders perform and mimicked the moves.

On Friday, they cheered next to the Wasilla High School Varsity Cheerleading team during the 4A girls state basketball semifinal game between Wasilla and Anchorage Christian. After halftime, the young girls dished out compliments and waited to talk with the cheerleaders.

Precious Alex, Alex-Talamaivao’s mom — who is a basketball coach for Anchorage Christian and has a daughter, niece and goddaughter on the team — laughed at her daughter’s unlikely affinity for the Wasilla chants.

“We were that little girl so anytime we see anyone, girl or boy, that shows interest in it ... we really encourage them to cheer for whatever team,” said Mandi Bakker, assistant coach for the Wasilla High School Varsity Cheerleading team.

“Cheerleaders cheer for cheerleaders,” she added. “We’d love to see them one day at a high school game.”

Emily Mesner

Emily Mesner is a multimedia journalist for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously worked for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, at the Cordova Times and at the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Michigan.