The finals seconds tick off the scoreboard at Ceres Unified School District Stadium on Aug. 23.
It’s halftime at the Central Valley-Ceres High rivalry football game.
Joeziah Mendez’s heart is racing as he holds hands with teammates and walks onto the field to entertain 2,500 fans.
Mendez is a member of Central Valley’s varsity cheer squad, along with fellow senior male student-athletes Carlos Serrano and Anthony Valenzuela.
“We’re excited to be here,” Mendez said. “Everyone is so accepting and has so much love for us. We’ve built a bond with the girls on the team. It’s a like a family over here.”
“It’s a blessing to have them on the team,” seventh-year head coach Cortni Coutrakis said. “It takes a huge amount of courage in this day and age with bullying and social media to be yourself. We’ve had nothing but positive experiences at Central Valley. I’m thankful for that.”
This year marks the first time Central Valley has had three male cheerleaders.
“They’ve been a great asset to our program,” Coutrakis said. “It sets the bar higher for our female athletes.”
A total of 148 students tried out for Central Valley’s cheer program this fall.
Mendez, Serrano and Valenzuela earned spots on the varsity team, along with 21 females.
“They learn a dance and cheer and perform it in front of a panel of judges,” she said. “They have to get a grade check. They also have two teacher evaluations. They’re very good students. They’re involved in other activities, too.”
“It’s just like any other sport,” Mendez said. “We’re not treated any differently. You have to put your all into it. It’s tiring but really worth it when everything goes perfect.”
Mendez, Serrano, Valenzuela and their teammates practice two hours a day.
They dedicate time to perfecting dance routines and stunts.
Mendez and Valenzuela are back spots on the stunt team. Serrano is a flyer.
“I blank out when it’s time to perform,” Mendez said. “I don’t hear the crowd. I just hear the music. I’m so focused. It feels like time stops.”
“The crowds enjoy watching them,” said Coutrakis.
A second-year cheerleader, Mendez failed to make the team in the 10th grade.
Serrano and Valenzuela are newcomers.
“I was anxious and not very confident,” said Mendez. “I didn’t put my full potential into it. I joined a dance class sophomore year and learned different skills I was able to take into cheer tryouts junior year. Now, I have confidence and love for the sport, my team and my coach.”
“They put their heart into it,” Coutrakis said. “They’re good performers. They’re very talented.”
Mendez, Serrano and Valenzuela have opened the door for other males interested in cheerleading.
“So many people have respect for us because we’re putting ourselves out there,” Mendez stated. “Other guys want to try out for cheer next year because they love what we’re doing.”
“Other kids get inspired by them,” added Coutrakis.
A former youth baseball and soccer player, Mendez takes a great deal of pride in being a cheerleader.
“I really don’t care what others think about me,” he said. “It’s not going to make or break my senior year. My confidence has improved over the years. My family is very supportive. It really warms my heart. I try to be a role model for my younger sister. She’s a freshman this year.”