In the minutes before the start of Tuesday night’s state high school semifinal girls lacrosse game, the Chaparral Firebirds circled around their coach to hear some final words of strategy and encouragement. After head coach Jessica Livingston said a few words, the Firebirds held their sticks above their heads as team captains Makenna Pohle and Alexa Sarussi led them in a traditional pregame cheer, “Red Hot,” by yelling out the following question:
Chaparral Captains Makenna Pohle (l) and Alexa Sarussi (r) lead their team in the cheer "Red Hot."
“Our team is what?”
The rest of the team responds – “RED HOT!”
Our team is what? RED HOT!
Then all the players shout in unison, without seeming to inhale: “Our team is R-E-D RED H-O-T HOT. Once we start, we can’t be stopped! All right!”
After a split-second pause, Pohle and Sarussi then yell to their red-and-black-uniformed teammates, “When I say Red, you say Black!”
“When I say Fire, you say Birds!”
The team then concludes in unison, “Goooooo Firebirds!” before breaking the circle and trotting onto the field to start the game.
“‘Red Hot’ is our ultimate pump-up cheer,” says Livingston. “We use this cheer before we go out on the field. It brings us together as a team, unites us as one, and gets us focused and pumped before we take the field. Our captains lead the cheer with pride, and in essence their leading the cheer symbolizes their contribution of leading our team all year. We’ve been doing this cheer for quite some time and the longevity of the cheer shows its importance to the team because it’s not just a cheer, it’s a Chaparral tradition.”
The Xavier College Prep Gators have their own pregame cheer, charmingly titled, “Blood and Pain.” Like the Chaparral cheer, the Xavier cheer starts with two players posing a question to the rest of the team, which is huddled around them.
“Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?”
“I said…Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?
GATORS! Ahhhh, OOOH!”
Xavier's Arden Anderson seeks to score against Horizon in an April 30 game.
So what do these cheers accomplish?
“Xavier’s pregame cheer, ‘Blood and Pain’ serves several purposes,” says coach Caitlin Bebout. “First and foremost, it unites the girls. They all come together in a close huddle with their arms wrapped behind their teammates’ backs. This signifies how they will work together as a team from the very start of the game. Next, the cheer gets them pumped up for the game. Taken partially from the Phoenix Suns’ pregame warm-up, their huddle starts to sway back and forth as they build up their energy. I’m sure on some level, it’s also used to intimidate their competition, but the ultimate goal of this pregame cheer is to unite the players and get them excited for the game.”
Pregame cheers are not just for girls. Perhaps the world’s most famous pregame cheer is done by New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks. Since 1888, the All Blacks have performed a traditional Maori ceremonial dance called the “Haka” before every game. Until six years ago, the All Blacks did the Ka Mate, which was composed by a Maori chief in the early 1800s.
In 2005, a new Haka, the Kapa O Pango, was written for the All Blacks. The composer of the new Haka, Derek Lardelli, has said that its purpose is “about building spiritual, physical and intellectual capacity prior to doing something very important.” Lardelli added, “It’s about building the person’s confidence inwardly, their spiritual side, and then making that spiritual side connect through the soul and coming out through the eyes and the gestures and the hands. So it’s a preparation of your physical side as well as your spiritual side.”
Nor are male pregame cheers confined to New Zealand. Locally, the Mesa High School football team does their own haka before each game.
So how effective was “Red Hot” for the Firebirds in Tuesday’s semifinal game? Pretty effective, it seems. After leading her teammates in the cheer, Makenna Pohle scored the first of her five goals of the evening less than a minute into the game and helped lead the Firebirds to a 20-13 victory over Pinnacle High School.
After the Firebirds lined up to shake hands with the Pinnacle players, they walked to the center of the field, laid down their sticks, put their arms around each other and formed a circle, swaying back and forth to do their postgame cheer, which starts in a whisper.
A little bit louder now
I still can’t hear you…
A little bit louder now
I still can’t hear you…
So with the game over, what is the purpose of a postgame cheer? Coach Livingston explains.
“This brings us together as a team at the end,” Livingston says. “We either win or lose as a team and not as individuals. Coming together as one at the end of the game reminds us of this. No matter how great or how frustrating the game may have been, we have shared the emotion together. It’s really not even about winning or losing, instead it’s about being a family. We leave it all on the field and since we are in a circle for this cheer, we can look into each other’s eyes and it brings us back to what’s most important — each other.”
Makenna Pohle, Alexa Sarussi and the other Chaparral seniors will do “Red Hot” one last time this Friday night, when they face the Horizon Huskies for the state title at 8 p.m. on Field 16 at the Reach 11 Sports Complex, 2425 East Deer Valley Rd., in Phoenix. It will be a rematch of last year’s state title game, which Chaparral won 21-4. This year, however, Horizon, which easily prevailed over Corona del Sol 21-8 in Tuesday’s other semifinal game, enters the championship game as the number one seed, while Chaparral is the ranked second in the state.
While Friday night’s championship game promises to be highly competitive, with its result in doubt until the end, there little doubt that for the seniors, Friday night’s team cheers will carry a little extra energy and emotion. — Dan Barr
Postscript — On May 13, Chaparral won the state championship in a highly competitive game, defeating Horizon 14-13 in overtime. To read more about that game, click here.