The high school football season has come to a close, but there is no rest for the cheerleading squad at Van Nuys High School.
The 15-member squad still practices five days a week, 2 1/2 hours a day to perfect their tumbles, flips and tosses.
Is this some kind of punishment? No, it's a reward for being so good.
Last month the squad took first place for the second straight year in the citywide Universal Cheerleading Assn.'s regional competition. The squad is now practicing for the national competition to be held in Florida in February.
The cheerleaders are hoping to better their disappointing finish in the nationals last year when they were plagued by injuries.
"We're very excited about our chances," said Lainey Abe, a senior and the squad's co-captain about the upcoming competition. "We've got a higher level of difficulty this year and it should help us."
The main reason the squad can attempt more difficult maneuvers this year is the addition, for the first time, of males to the cheerleading squad. One of the main duties of the three boys is tossing the petite girls, called flyers, high into the air.
Salvador Davila, who at 5 feet, 10 inches and 140 pounds is the tallest of the boys, is responsible for catching the flyers as they return to earth.
The squad should also benefit from its experience in the nationals.
"We know what to expect, and I think we're just a better team this year," said Lavonda Mickens, a senior and the other captain of the squad.
Coach Cheri Brown agrees.
"They are such a hard-working group. They are always practicing, trying to get better," she said.
Before the squad can compete in Florida, members have to raise money to get there. They need about $6,200, or about $400 per cheerleader.
During the past few weeks they have been selling Avon products, posters and stationery to help raise funds.