If you graduated from Drake more than five years ago, chances are you don’t even remember the school having a . If you do, then it probably conjures up images of pom-poms and bouncy ponytails.
The current Drake cheerleading team might come as a bit of a shock.
Since Coach Christian Friese took over in December 2006, the squad has become an athletic, competition team. They perform throws and lifts. They do tumbling passes, along with the cheering. And, they do it not just at basketball and football games, but year-round at local and regional competitions. This year, the team returned to being a competition team, which they hope lays the foundation for more competitions, and maybe nationals, in the future.
“The more our skills have advanced, the more respect this team has earned,” said assistant coach Jenna Kuhmann.
And the coach they have to thank for the change is stepping down after revolutionizing the team.
“It’ll be impossible to walk away from,” said Friese.
Five years ago, Friese had never been to Drake. She’d never even been to Marin. But, she responded to a post on an online forum from one of the students, asking for a coach or the program would be cancelled.
Since then, Friese, who works as an event planner in the city, has spent hours commuting to San Anselmo, going to games, competitions and clinics. “I spend more on gas and tolls than the stipend [from the school],” she joked.
But, it was all worth it.
“Outside of my full-time job, they are my life,” said Friese. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, because I love this team so much.”
Friese coached at high schools in Oregon while at Oregon State, before moving to San Francisco. When she got here, she actually retired from cheerleading for six months before the SOS came from Drake. Now, her position at Drake has been the longest she’s coached anywhere and the easiest because of all the support from staff, she said.
But, Friese promised her friends and family she would step down this year and use the time to focus more on her work and personal life. She made the same promise last year, when she was supposed to retire. It was then that Kuhmann came onboard as an assistant coach, so Friese agreed to stay one more year to help Kuhmann learn the ins and outs of the team.
“I’ve learned so much from her it’s ridiculous,” said Kuhmann, who lives in Kentfield. Kuhmann said one of the most important things she learned was that you don’t have to be a mean coach to gain a team’s respect.
The school is currently beginning the application process to replace Friese – a position Kuhmann certainly hopes to fill.
In 2007, the team and Friese started holding youth cheer clinics to teach kids the basics of cheerleading. This April, when they hold tryouts, will be the first year graduates of those clinics will tryout. In addition, next year’s squad (which starts summer camps and competitions after tryouts in April) will be lead by nine current juniors, who are all likely to return. And, though Friese says she’s retiring for good this year, she will still help out, pointing the new coach and team in the right direction.
She has to promise herself, though, that she’s quitting cold turkey. “Total and complete retirement,” she said, or she’ll find herself drawn back into the sport and the team. For now, she doesn’t plan to come back as a coach until she has a daughter who wants to cheer.
Whoever takes the reins, though, is inheriting a team of boys and girls who are athletic, fit and ready to cheer.
“It’s still going to be an awesome program,” said Friese.