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Rah-rah É rats

Portland Christian comes up short in cheerleading contest

They're an inexperienced group, cobbled together in a few short months by a first-year coach. And now the team is tired and a bit frayed after weeks of intense preparation. But when it comes to cheerleading and Portland Christian High School, expectations are high.

So the squad came to the OSAA-U.S. Bank Cheerleading State Championships at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday determined to carry a torch that shone brightly over the last 12 years: four 3A or 2A/1A state titles, six other top-three finishes.

Coach Tina Friesen is back at Portland Christian, where she led cheers for three years before graduating in 1993. The death of her former coach, Kerry Gobel, in an auto accident last May devastated the school. Cheerleading tryouts for the upcoming year were canceled. Friesen wanted to help.

'I had huge shoes to fill,' she says.

The nondenominational Parkrose school has an enrollment of just under 300. Students attend chapel every Wednesday, take at least one Bible class each term and are on an accelerated academic schedule. And, said Friesen, 'We excel in our extracurricular activities.'

For anyone fuzzy on the importance of high school cheerleading, Saturday's event offered a refresher course. Among competitors and fans alike, emotions ran unedited, tears flowing in triumph and defeat.

In a practice room adjacent to the arena, Portland Christian's team seems loose enough. 'Ham it up,' advises Friesen, 27.

A public address announcement tells the Royals they're on deck. Then, after a final run-through, an event official pulls Friesen aside. The satiny, tearaway pants worn by freshman Brett McLean, the only boy on the team, don't meet strict codes. With the clock ticking, McLean sprints away in search of another pair.

The team has done its work. It placed third at a competition at McNary High School, in Salem, a week earlier. Friesen says a technicality kept Portland Christian from a title.

McLean runs past in the direction of the restroom with pants borrowed from a Dayton High squad member. 'They were totally cool about it,' McLean says.

Friesen calls team members into a tight huddle and urges them to pour it on. 'Whatever you're doing, double it,' she says. 'We're gonna do our best. That's all we can do. We can't worry about other teams.' Amid shouts of 'You can do it' and 'Go PC,' Portland Christian takes center stage.

The team performs confidently, but two lifts, in which a girl is hoisted by three teammates, don't 'get up.' When the routine ends, some of the girls leave the arena in tears. 'That sucked,' one tells the coach.

Friesen, fighting her own emotions, assembles her crestfallen squad. 'I'm so proud of you. You did it. You guys were tired. It's OK. You didn't let me down.'

After the competition, 34 squads gather on the floor of the arena for the award ceremony. 'We've never not brought back a trophy,' a hopeful Friesen says. But when a flashy and crowd-pleasing South Umpqua squad manages only fourth place, Portland Christian's chances of placing seem scant. Three trophies later, the championship of the 3A, 2A, 1A Coed Division goes to Henley High School, near Klamath Falls.

Portland Christian ends up in 10th place.

Even with disappointment clear on their faces, Friesen and assistant Heather Burke, 21, remain defiant.

'I think I've got 16 people who want to come back,' she says. 'By the time they're seniors, this team is gonna knock people out of the water.'