Snow plows and pom- POMS

Juneau's Elite Cheer Team elbows into the snow removal business

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009

No more can the local grumps at the coffee shop say it'd take more than a pack of cheerleaders to clear their driveway.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The newly-formed Juneau Elite Cheer Team traded in their pom-poms and bloomers during last week's blitz of snowfall to swaddle in their heaviest winter gear and waddle behind their trusty family snow shovels as the group raised money by excavating local driveways, decks and boats for small, ahem, donations.

"It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing. One of the moms asked if the kids could shovel her driveway on Friday when we got the big snow," said Monica Casipit, cheer mom and Elite Cheer fundraising organizer. "People just kept calling and asking if we're stilling doing it. As long as there's snow on the ground, we're gonna be doing it."

Casipit has good reason to keep the group's 16 boys and girls, ranging in age from 13-18, hitched to their respective shovels - the impromptu fundraiser has been a giant success. In less than a week, the "free" service has raised roughly $1,200 towards the team's maiden competition in California this summer.

With travel costs per athlete estimated at $800 for the competition, though, the coffers still remain relatively bare and the group is hoping for more of the white stuff.

"It's really worth it when we can get four or five kids out there working at once and earn $200 for a really big job," Casipit said. "It's kind of like what they already do as a team. Size and weight isn't crucial thing - you can be 90 or 150 pounds and fly in the air if you have five teammates behind you working together."

Business for the team got a noticeable bump when another of the group's hard-working moms, Julie Wyatt, recommended getting the word out on the radio waves.

"It really snowballed from there and the kids just went with it. Friday was a snow day for the schools, so we called the kids and said we have an opportunity to make money," Casipit said. "By 9 (a.m.) we already had five phone calls, so we sent groups to Douglas, Lemon Creek, downtown and another one to the valley. People have been really generous and we even got $200 for a big job out by Fritz Cove."

As you might imagine, not all of the kids were glowing with excitement at the prospect of spending their snow day honing their manual labor skills.

"I really wasn't a big fan of the idea at first, but then we started to do it and I was like 'Hey, this isn't so hard,'" said Cassie Casipit, a JDHS sophomore and Monica's daughter . "It was actually a good experience to get to know the girls on the team who I hadn't really met yet."

Not so hard? Even if the team got over their doubts quickly, there was still a handful of customers who cast raised eyebrows between their snow-drowned property and the one or two boys who accompanied each crew.

"A couple of people just said 'I think you're going to need some more boys'," Monica Casipit said. "The girls knew they could do it, though. Most of these girls are ex-cheerleaders and gymnastics and hockey players. Compared to their usual conditioning, this is a piece of cake."

Some of the team members have worked as much as 30 hours over the past week, including a four-hour practice on Saturday that was followed by, you guessed it, pushing around the then-soggy snow.

"It's a great upper-body workout, for sure. It really gets their heart rate going and builds stamina," Monica Casipit said. "It's not a replacement for their practice time, though. This is totally sidebar. We still need these kids holding up 100-pound girls with one hand while they're down on one knee."

With the work time varying widely between members and the impromptu feel of the fundraiser, the money is divided between each teen's travel fund on a job-by-job basis.

"Every penny we're making goes individually to that person that worked, not just into a general fund," Monica Casipit said.

In all, the group has cleared 13 properties this week, including a couple of call-backs to clear even more snow at previous locations.

One memorable job near Fritz Cove greeted a crew with waist-deep snow on a series of pathways and two-tiered decks. Instead of complaining, the team members pulled out their cameras as they dumped head-high drifts from one deck to the next and, finally, to the ground below. As a tip, the grateful owners sent the workers home with an age-appropriate bag stuffed with pretzels and gummy bears.

Another crew downtown was treated to a mid-afternoon work break of homemade apple cider carried out by the homeowner on a silver tray.

"They thought that was really cool - getting special service like that for shoveling snow," Monica Casipit said.

The teens also cleared out snow for several elderly homeowners, a man who was recovering from recent surgery and even a work-bound boat owner who was afraid his canopy would collapse.

The group, which was started in December, is not affiliated with any local schools or football leagues, and is limited in its membership due to the expense of travel.

The purpose for starting the group, Monica Casipit said, was to help the local cheer and gymnastics athletes get the national exposure that could help them get to college and beyond.

"From here they can go to hockey leagues, basketball leagues or join the Oakland Raiders," Monica Casipit said. "Even if they don't want to be a cheerleader for their entire lives, they get exposure that can help them go to college and become that doctor or lawyer they want to be."

The group is led by a sort of "dream team" of local coaches, including two gymnastics coaches, three cheer coaches, a jumping coach and a dance coach. All of the coaches donate their time, and welcomed the opportunity to join forces while still leading their individual activities in the community.

"We have such a variety of coaches dying to show their stuff in Juneau, but nobody asked them to do anything like this because they were off doing their own thing," Monica said. "We don't want the kids to sacrifice any of their other activities either. This is just about letting people see what our great athletes around here are capable of doing."

Interested snow-bound homeowners can contact Monica Casipit at 790-3099.

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