The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


The Student News Site of The American School in Japan


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Suri Choi: Your Best CHOIce

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            When she was in ninth grade, Suri Choi (‘25) observed that the student body was quite disconnected from the people they chose as their...

Humans of ASIJ — Captains of the Cheer Squad

Cheerleading captains Rei Iida (left), Naomi Druker (center), and Aina Matsumoto (right)
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Y-E-L-L, hit it! The ASIJ Cheerleading team, who lead chants and entertain crowds at sports games, finished off the winter season where they cheered for the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams. This school year marked the first year of cheering with an audience and without COVID restrictions since 2019-2020. In this Humans of ASIJ interview, team captains Aina Matsumo (senior), Rei Iida (senior), and Naomi Druker (junior) speak about their experience cheerleading. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

How has COVID affected your experience with cheerleading?

Rei: We [the Class of 2024] started cheering during COVID. It’s such a contact sport so COVID limited the stunting, cheering, or chanting we could do. It’s also hard to perform with masks which we had on all the way through our junior year. 

Naomi: Imagine how advanced our team could have been if we started stunting in freshman year. COVID limited us a lot but we have grown so much more now that restrictions have been removed. 

Aina: I think the restrictions also discouraged upperclassmen to join cheer. For example, there were only two seniors on the team in 2021-2022. 

Rei: We had online practices with a coach from a cheerleading company. One thing she drilled into us were the fundamentals like our hand positions and formations. It was easy to learn the foundations which helped us in our later years.

Since all three of you have been on the team since your freshman year, how has the team developed since then?

Rei: Our team definitely grew a lot since our freshman year.  For us current seniors, it was really different—we had no upperclassmen and no knowledge.  

Aina:  All we knew how to do was to hold pom poms that year. We never had a game and we didn’t have uniforms, just bows. 

Naomi: When I started, we didn’t stunt until the winter season, but even then, we couldn’t cheer for games. We have developed so much since then—the first time I did a cheer with a routine, we spent three months learning it. 

Aina: This season, the team learned a new halftime routine in three days.  

Naomi: We are always upgrading and adding new skills, like the new flip we have in our routine.

Aina: Since our skills have improved, the level of expectation is much higher compared to our freshman year.

What is something you wish the ASIJ community knew a bit more about the team?

Naomi: Cheer is so hard!

Aina: Cheer is super hard, yeah. 

Rei: And we are so so proud of what we do. 

Naomi: We are at school until five p.m. everyday and some days we’re here until eight, but people only see us say “let’s go mustangs.” 

Aina: Mr. Nelson encourages us to join pep rallies to showcase our performances which I appreciate. It’s making me really happy that people join our cheers now. 

Rei: But even then, we are still underrated. The cheer coach doesn’t make our halftime shows, so the captains make the routines. It doesn’t look like it, but each stunt takes a lot of power and technique. 

For Aina and Rei: What goals did you have for the team and how have they reflected in the team?

Rei: Fairness and team bonding.

Aina: Back when there were separate teams, like Varsity and JV, we were heated up and separated as a team. Until last year, we were scared of upperclassmen and during halftime routines, we would notice that some people were excluded. We wanted the team to be more relaxed and not be scared of each other. 

Rei: The level of transparency that we had this year has broken down barriers we had in previous years. Our team is definitely closer. When we started this year, our practices were intense but the vibe was more relaxed and everyone knew what was going on. We’re also able to communicate more outside of practice compared to previous years. 

For Naomi: What is it like being a junior captain?

Naomi: In the beginning, I was really scared because we have so many seniors on the team. I had to ask upperclassmen for check-in videos [practice videos of chants and jumps] over the summer and I was so scared. 

The actual season has been so much better—the seniors have been so nice and I was scared for no reason. 

In some cases, being a junior captain helps a lot because I am closer in age to freshman and juniors so sometimes they are more comfortable talking to me compared to the seniors. 

Which do you prefer: football or basketball season?

Rei: Hot take–basketball season. I like that the games aren’t that long but I also like the vibes. 

Aina: I like basketball season better because of team dynamics: it feels a lot closer. We’re also doing harder routines and I love to see us grow. Maybe it’s because we are captains now, but we definitely see the growth and are constantly thinking of ways to level up for the future. 

We are a lot closer during this season too. I get more excited for football games, but as a team, I think we are a lot closer in basketball season. 

Naomi: Football season definitely. I like basketball season a lot too, but football season feels so surreal—like a movie. Like Friday Night Lights, it’s dark out and the lights are on and we are looking out into the crowd. Football season feels like typical American teenage life. 

What advice would you give underclassmen who have no experience, but are interested in cheerleading?

Naomi: Even if you don’t have experience, just try it out. It’s a lot more fun than it seems. 

Aina: It’s not really a sport where you need natural skills, you can get better. That’s not to say that cheer isn’t hard. Some people join cheer thinking it’s not serious, but it takes a lot of work. I think it takes a certain mindset to succeed. If you join, taking the sport seriously, it allows more growth. 

Rei: Cheerleading is all about performing, so the important thing is that you’re having fun, smiling, and enjoying your time. Practices can get really hard and it may get tough, but it’s so important to have fun.

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About the Contributor
Sami Torii
Sami Torii, Writer
Hello! My name Sami Torii and I'm a senior at ASIJ. I've been at ASIJ for about 3 years now and before Tokyo, I lived in Hawaii. As a new member of Hanabi, I intend to explore the craft of writing and hope to cultivate the knowledge of both myself and Hanabi readers.

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