A gesture for Southeast to cheer about

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2003

Cheering crowds and moments of silence. Heartburn, heartbreak and heart-stoppers. Basketball and war.

For those who crossed between the excitement of games on the court and the drone of war coverage on TV sets backstage, last weekend's Class 3A and Class 4A state high school basketball tournaments at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena presented an at-times-surreal mix of experiences and emotions.

In all of that, along with the sheer numbers of teams and fans, it would have been very easy for a sense of unity, of community, to get lost in the shuffle.

But one thing that shined through all the hubbub was Southeast solidarity, when the Petersburg High School cheer squad took to the floor during Saturday's Class 3A boys championship game to cheer for the Craig Panthers.

In Viking blue and white, with the boys donning green warm-up shirts borrowed from Craig players, the Petersburg squad became surrogate Panthers for the game. In doing so, they showed the rest of the state why living and playing in Southeast is something special.

The ball got rolling last week Friday after Craig won to advance to Saturday's championship game. Doug Rhodes, the Craig athletic director, was trying to pump up the Panthers' support to be on par with their title-game opponent - undefeated and top-ranked Valdez - and approached Viking cheer coach Ronelle Beardslee.

"I knew Valdez had a cheer squad, and everyone could drive to the game," said Rhodes, who estimated the Craig contingent at about 15 to 20 fans.

"Since we didn't have (a cheer squad), I went to the (Petersburg) coach and ... I asked her if her kids would be willing to cheer for us, and they just jumped at it. They were just chomping at the bit."

"We were all for it," Petersburg cheer squad captain Monica Buotte said. "Southeast pride."

Buotte, a senior at PHS, plays volleyball and said that rivalry with Craig has been heated at times. But up in Anchorage, any hard feelings disappeared.

"We knew them, we've grown up playing with them all through high school," she said. "When you get to state, no one knows where Petersburg is or where Craig is. You've got to stick together."

So the young Vikings squad - up in Anchorage to cheer on their boys and girls hoops teams - made some quick revisions to familiar routines.

"It was really hard to think about all the cheers we had to change," said cheer squad member Julia Bringhurst, a PHS junior. "It comes so natural to cheer for the Vikings, for the blue and white."

But even though a few "Vikings" slipped through to the audience's ears on Saturday night, the eyes saw the green "Craig"-emblazoned shirts worn by the Petersburg boys.

"The guys wearing the Craig warm-ups - that was icing on the cake," Rhodes said.

The game gave the Vikings the chance to be on TV and perform in front of a packed house.

"I think in that game, honestly, I had the most fun out of any game I've cheered for," Buotte said.

For all involved, the night ended in the best possible way. The Craig boys beat Valdez 70-53 to win the state title, and the Petersburg cheer squad got a superior rating from state judges - the highest possible rating.

And for Southeast fans in the Sullivan stands, the events of Saturday night gave cause to sit back, smile and think about life back home. Life in a place where high school teams stay in each others' homes on road trips, where generations of a single family leave their mark on the court, and where kids put aside rivalries and hard feelings to cheer a team in need on to its finest hour.

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.

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