"Simon says to cheer!"


The group of 4- and 5-year-olds let out a hearty shout, then they move on to the day's lessons: forwards rolls and toe touches.


"For our first one, it's pretty good," Lainie Lugo, co-organizer of the first-ever Sultana Mini-Cheer Camp, says as the youngsters and groups of older participants go through their paces.


For Lugo, a former Sultana High cheerleader and later an assistant coach under Dale Ford, the two-day camp is more than an opportunity to share her love of cheerleading. It's also a chance for Lugo and fellow organizers Krysta Holland and Heather Anderwald, also former Sultana cheerleaders, to start a new era in the wake of Ford's recent departure to Oak Hills High.


"This is a new tradition," says Lugo, a teacher at Cedar Middle School. "Today we're going to give them the foundation for being a cheerleader."


The youngsters, who last Friday evening showed their parents what they had learned during a special program, performed jumps, dances, chants and more. The girls also will play an important role in the high school's cheer program next Sept. 18, when they join their senior counterparts during a pre-game performance. All proceeds of the camp go to Sultana Cheerleading, and the event provided several current members of the high school cheer squad to assist the organizers.


"We want a victory! Go Sultans go!" one of the high schoolers chant during the event.


During a brief break, the assistants extolled the merits of cheerleading.


"You have to be athletic, that's for sure," says senior Brooke Turner.


"It takes a lot of hard work and dedication," adds Jessica Gandara, also a senior cheerleader.


Under Ford, who was the founding cheer coach for Hesperia, Sultana and now Oak Hills, Sultana's squads regularly won prestigious events, including the West Coast Championship earlier this year. Lugo is grateful for the foundation laid by Ford, and she's looking forward to new, exciting challenges for the 2009-10 team.


"Dale created the Sultana cheerleading program from scratch," she says. "He turned it into one of the best programs in the state. So we're just trying to continue that legacy."