Updated: March 23, 2021 11:15 PM
Created: March 23, 2021 01:45 AM
As winter sports made their return this season one aspect of the game day atmosphere was still missing, a large supporting crowd. So one Esko coach found a creative way to bring that energy courtside even during the coronavirus.
When the Esko girls and boys basketball teams tip off at home one set up bleachers stays tightly closed. That's because fewer fans are allowed to attend matches this year due to pandemic restrictions which means less Eskomo spirit on game day.
That's why the Esko Spirit Squad was born.
"At first we were a little bit worried we didn't know if like, you know, we didn't want to be too obnoxious but everybody just seems to like enjoy it and get in on it so it's really good time for us," said junior Cole Engen, a Spirit Squad captain.
Four cheerleaders made the Eskomos' squad this year, however the Minnesota State High School League allows teams of up to 25. So Esko cheer coach Kari Knutson saw that as an opportunity to fill the remaining spots with spirited students that otherwise wouldn't be allowed to attend games as members of the general public during the pandemic.
"I said to Cole [Engen], I said Cole you want to go to the games, why don't you join cheerleading and he goes, no," Knutson recalled. "I said it'd be really fun, we need you, and I thought it's a great way to get into the games. You can cheer on the squads but you have to be unified and you have to be positive."
"She had asked me to get all the guys to come and do it and I don't play winter sport so I just went around and asked a bunch of people and I eventually got enough to come to the games," Engen said.
Just like the basketball teams, the around 20 person spirit squad huddles up post game and practices pre-game to make sure they bring the loudest and best noise to the house of blue and gold.
"Occasionally sometimes we'll just yell pumpkin for no reason, it's a pretty famous thing on the internet right now," Engen said.
"We turned it into starting quiet as a the whole, and repeating until we all get really loud," said fellow squad captain, senior Cole Ondrus. "I actually got a mom of the girls team to start doing it with us, it's pretty fun."
Those on the court especially appreciate their slam dunk efforts.
"I've talked to players on both teams and they love it," Ondrus said. "They love us cheering and doing chants and being loud it's nice, they said it's nice to have that atmosphere of a game again."
They plan to continue their offensive efforts against silent Eskomo arenas into the spring and next year. They also plan to stick with their signature uniform of blue and gold striped bibs that were inspired by the Minnesota Gopher basketball student section.
"Bibs every game next year too," Engen laughed.
For the 20 years since Knutson has been at Esko she's always wanted a spirit squad and said this year's group is everything she could have hoped for.
"I'm really proud of them and I hope that this is a memory that they'll have forever, because I know I will," Knutson said.
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