Aleta Balcer wasn’t ever a cheerleader herself, but she’s been about as close as you can get to the sport without actually springing into mid-air to perform Herkies or toe-touches.
“I played volleyball for two years in high school,” says the cheer coach who first got involved in the activity when her younger sister was a cheerleader with the Guyasuta Youth Football Association. “I was 14-years-old at the time and too old to cheer for that group, but I went to practices and sat with the coaches. After a year, I started to help them, and soon after that, I coached my own team. I’ve been coaching off and on since I was in high school.”
For the past three years, Coach Balcer has channeled that same enthusiasm into building and growing the Fox Chapel Area High School program. To achieve her vision she has introduced new concepts as well as improving some traditional aspects of the program.
Some of her goals are to continually work on the girls’ skill sets, introduce new material, participate in cheer competitions, and get them more involved in the community, in addition to their interaction with fans at football and basketball games.
“One week over the summer I hold a camp when instructors from the University of Pittsburgh teach the girls new cheers and routines and help them with stunting,” she says. “I also have several people who come in and teach the mandatory cheers, chants, dance routine, and jumps used at tryouts. This way, I can take a less hands-on role and really observe the girls during the clinics and over a period of time, rather than just once at tryouts. I’ve found this approach gives me an idea of how quickly they learn, what their skill levels are, and, generally, if they have the potential to succeed and add something to our team.”
Another area the coach feels is important is to build brand-recognition and visibility within the WPIAL cheer community. When she took over, Coach Balcer discovered the cheer squad had not been that involved in competitions, but that has changed. The 23-member squad has won back-to-back first-place finishes the past two years at the annual Battle in the ‘Burgh contest sponsored by Elite Cheerleading, and last year they medaled at third place at the Bethel Park Cheer Competition.
“We added some advanced stunts this year and most of them are brand new to the girls,” she explains. “It takes a lot of patience, practice, and hard work, along with some bumps along t he way. I’m very proud of the hard work they’ve put in so far. I couldn’t ask for anything more of them.”
The squad will also participate for the first time at the Universal Cheerleading Association regional competition that will be held December 3, 2017, at Slippery Rock University. Finally, the cheerleaders will wrap up their year of competition December 10, 2017, and at the annual Battle in the ‘Burg.
But Coach Balcer’s vision for her teams doesn’t end with pom-pom in hand, but rather with a helping hand. She has sought out opportunities where the cheer squad can support the community and participate in charitable efforts.
“We’ve held a holiday toy drive for the past two years,” the coach says. “Proceeds from our first drive were donated to Children’s Hospital of UPMC and last year we gave them to a local church to distribute. The girls wrapped every single toy and helped give them out, and it was a very rewarding and fun experience for all of us.”
Coach Balcer continues, “To me, a cheerleader is a school team leader or ambassador. Not only do they lead the spirit on the sidelines, I look to them to show their spirit during school as well as out of school. I try to encourage my girls to think about their actions first, how their decisions will impact their life, how will it look for them, and how their decisions reflect upon the team.”
That image, so it would seem, is an evolving one that’s getting even cheerier, thanks to Coach Balcer’s dedication to excellence, priorities, and her love for the sport and the young women on her teams.