Everyone knows that the “dumb cheerleader” stereotype is, well, dumb. Cheerleaders can balance not only in stunts but in life, and are often top achievers in the classroom as well.
This holds true for the Randolph (N.J.) High School squad, which earned a bronze in gameday cheer at NHSCC and had two team members lead the Class of 2017, academically speaking, with Claire Zou being named valedictorian and Jessica Freund salutatorian.
“Their accomplishment speaks depths of our cheerleading community raising not just successful athletes but all-around successful young women,” says Coach Kim Moreno. “They are an inspiration to our entire squad, and we volunteer and coach rec cheerleaders, so everyone looks up to Claire and Jess.”
They contribute a lot to their team besides good grades, says Coach Moreno. Claire is a top tumbler on the sideline squad and Jess served as captain for the competition squad – “my go-to gal,” Coach calls her.
So how do they balance it all?
“I had to prioritize,” says Jess. “My math teacher once showed us a triangle with the categories ‘grades,’ ‘social life,’ and ‘sleep,’ and then said, ‘pick two.’ School always had to come first; this was important to me as well as my parents and coaches.
And for Claire, time management was almost fun.
“I love keeping everything in my life organized, so juggling cheerleading, extracurriculars, and school never seemed like a chore,” she says. “I kept my calendar constantly updated with appointments and games to make sure I never overbooked myself. High school taught me that management and organization can do wonders for a busy schedule.”
The pair definitely balance non-stop schedules, their coach notes.
“They would get to school at 7 a.m. and sit in the library for the first half hour,” Coach says. “I’ve never seen them not working. Even when we’d be on buses to away games they’d have their classwork with them.”
While Coach Moreno says the pair pretty much knew since sophomore year the top two honors would go to them, the rivalry always stayed friendly.
“They really motivate each other,” she says proudly. “The competition is real but they want what’s best for the other over themselves.”
The girls agree.
“It’s an amazing feeling to achieve individual success, but to be able to support someone else and share success with them is far more rewarding,” she says. “Claire and I have gone through five years of cheer and four years of high school together, and I know that our friendship will continue far beyond high school.”
“While we rarely talked about our grades, we still had an unspoken healthy competition, which pushed both of us to accomplish more and more,” adds Claire. “Leading our class academically has been a special experience and one that I will look back on fondly. I wouldn’t be the student or person I am today without Jess by my side these past four years.”
What comes next for these two? Claire will head to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., this fall to pursue a degree in international studies and possibly apply for a five-year bachelor’s-master’s degree program in her sophomore year. Her schedule will probably be too full for cheerleading, but she plans to be an avid fan of Hopkins’ top-ranked lacrosse team come spring. Jess will attend the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Freshmen aren’t allowed to try out for the cheer squad, but she too will exert her school spirit from the stands, in addition to honing her skills prepping for sophomore year tryouts.
As for the high school team they leave behind, Coach Moreno isn’t sure she’ll see another 1-2 academic punch like Claire and Jess, but she’ll never worry about grades.
“We have a lot of girls in AP classes and who earn a lot of academic honors, but they were a special pair,” Coach says. “I’ve had the pleasure of coaching these girls since their sophomore year and I appreciate all their hard work. It was a pleasure coaching them!”