A Reason to Cheer

A Reason to Cheer

You could hear it from their special cheer and brief prayer
before each routine.
You could see it on their uniforms, in their performance and
through their tears.
You could hear it from their special cheer and brief prayer before each routine.

You could see it on their uniforms, in their performance and through their tears.

All the plaques and all the ribbons were nice. Earning a chance to cheer at February’s NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii was especially nice.

But when the Gilroy High cheerleading squad recently traveled to UC-Santa Cruz for the USA Spirit Camp, their true intentions were evident for all to see and hear.

For them, it was all about remembering and honoring fallen teammate Erin Kinkel, who passed away Aug. 1 after being thrown from the bed of a pickup truck near Watsonville Road.

“We had a meeting before we left,” said senior Brad Miller, “and decided every day at camp would be dedicated to Erin.

“She was just such an all-around good person.”

As a rising junior, Kinkel had been elevated to the varsity cheer team earlier in the summer. And almost immediately, the 15-year-old’s thoughts turned to the team’s opportunity to earn a spot at the Pro Bowl.

“Erin wanted to go to Hawaii so badly,” said co-head coach Tricia Cooper. “She just thought that would be the best thing in the world.”

So in her memory, Kinkel’s teammates earned that much-coveted trip by turning in out-of-this-world performances.

After leaving Kinkel’s position vacant and making several late changes to its routines, the varsity squad of nine went out and posted “superior” ratings in each of its four evaluations.

“As a coach, I’ve never seen anything that good,” Cooper said. “It was just spectacular – the most flawless routine I’ve ever seen. Period.”

Joined by the efforts of both the junior varsity and freshman squads, the entire Mustangs’ contingent earned the camp’s Overall Spirit Award.

Then, in a vote by hundreds of participating cheerleaders, Gilroy’s group of 29 received the Camp Unity Award as the most unified team.

And it wasn’t hard to see why – the memory of one had united them all week.

“She inspired us … and that brought us together and made us want to do really good in her honor,” said senior Angelique Geiger, 17. “Everything we did was for Erin.”

At the dorm they were staying at, the girls decorated their hallway with signs honoring their former teammate. On the uniforms they were wearing, they had Kinkel’s initials embroidered inside a heart.

Before each routine, the cheerleaders spelled out Kinkel’s name and the singers in the group said a short prayer and blew a kiss toward the sky.

And the unified chant wasn’t “Go Gilroy!” or “Go Mustangs!” like usual. It was simply “All for Erin!”

“There were some tears, but we had a good time,” Cooper said. “They talked about her a lot. From freshmen to varsity, she was never far from their thoughts.”

That was especially true while performing.

Falls and mental mistakes had plagued the team in the week leading up to the camp, Cooper said. But then – when it really counted – the team was near-perfect.

“Right when we started, I knew she was with us,” Miller said. “Everyone knew she was with us.

“You could just feel it.”

So when the camp organizers heard the story, they awarded the team with an extra ribbon.

The ribbon will now be placed alongside Kinkel’s uniform in a shadow box that is being prepared for parents Miki and Scott Kinkel.

“Her parents called me the other day just to see how the girls were doing,” said co-head coach Shirley Nunes. “When I told Miki about camp, her voice started cracking – she was just elated.

“They asked me to keep them involved, because they really want to stay in touch. They want to stay connected to whatever Erin was connected to.”

When it comes to the cheer squad, it appears the connection will not be subsiding anytime soon.

“According to the girls, she’s still on the squad,” Cooper said. “Whatever they do this year, it’ll be in memory of her.

“She was a special girl.”

Brett Edgerton is a staff writer at The Gilroy Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]