Briana Stednick will wave a pair of pom-poms for the first time since grade school in a few weeks.
Stednick, a junior, is one of many girls who have never been on Hopatcong High School's cheerleading team but will perform for the winter squad, which will resurface for the first time in five years thanks to grassroots funding and an outpouring of student interest.
"It's an opportunity to join a team again," Stednick said.
Of the team's 28 members, only six have cheered for the fall competition team. Head coach Jennifer Dixon said she's looking forward to helping groom a new crop of talent alongside assistant coaches Debbie Titus and Jill Vicedomini.
"There are a lot of girls here that didn't come out for football and just want to cheer," Dixon said. "And that was their whole thing—they missed cheering so much. We're giving them that back. A lot of girls don't do other sports, so this is giving them a sport."
Athletic Director Tom Vara said the program faded away due to lack of participation.
"It's going to be nice to have the girls out to basketball games again," he said. "It's really good for our student body."
Getting the team back wasn't easy for Dixon, who, with Titus and Vicedomini, have spent years coaching cheerleading in the Hopatcong Warriors youth program.
But eventually they were able to prove to Hopatcong's Board of Education that the program could be fully-funded by parents and fundraisers—a path the golf and marching band have each recently taken due to state aid cuts and budget proposal defeats.
The cheerleaders will use the fall program's uniforms and mats. And it won't travel, cheering just for boys and girls varsity basketball games and one competition, which it will host in early January.
Freshman Rebecca Caruso credited Dixon for encouraging students to join the squad, which didn't cut anyone during tryouts.
"She's a really good coach," said Caruso, who cheered in the fall. "She's got every quality a coach needs to be a good coach. She's so dedicated."
Sophomore Heather Friedman said she was looking forward to the start of the season. Though training will be tough.
"We've got about 40 cheers we're teaching them," Dixon said. "And because there's so many girls, it takes a little bit longer. But we'll get it down."