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Next generation cheers on Herd basketball team

January 21, 2018 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Tonya Johnson Pasley cheered on the Thundering Herd from 2001 to 2005.

And she hoped one day her daughter, Faith, would follow in her footsteps.

But who knew it would be so soon.

Tonya and John Pasley’s 4-year-old Faith was one of the dozens of spirited young cheerleaders (from preschool to fifth grade) who joined the Marshall University cheerleaders on the floor at the Cam Henderson Center to get the crowd fired up before the men’s basketball game against UAB.

The marquee performance was the icing on the cake for the students who attended the annual Junior Thundering Herd Cheer Clinic on Saturday afternoon.

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“It is really special,” Tonya said while watching her daughter practice at Gullickson Hall gym. “I am probably a little more excited than she is. We have been with her on campus before, but not in this capacity, and so I am really excited for tonight and to see her out on the court that I once cheered on. Cheering on the Herd brings back some great memories.”

A relatively new tradition with the now 27-member-strong Marshall cheer team — coached by Jake and Candice Gilliam, a husband and wife team — the Junior Thundering Herd Cheer Clinic brought the smiles and the volume to Gullickson as the kids geared up for their big night in the spotlight.

Candice Gilliam said the clinic is a fun way to interact with the community and to help their team, which will be headed back to the Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida, over spring break, be reminded of the simple joy of cheering together.

“A lot of our cheerleaders are constantly trying to build their skills, and they are always trying to push their bodies to the limit and they are always very passionate about Marshall. But when you see the joy of these kids, it kind of reignites your passion, so I think it is a good refresher for them,” Gilliam said. “You have these little ones that are just in awe of what you do.”

Marshall Cheer, which hosts two-day commuter clinics in summer for middle

and high school students, jams a whole lot into the two hours they work with the junior clinic students.

“We have lots of games, but we also have five stations at which we teach them jumps, some of our dances, a few cheers, tumbling on the mats and teach them about flexibility and body position, which is what our girls do in the air,” Jake Gilliam said. “We have them rotating for two hours, and the goal is to teach them enough stuff to go do pregame in front of the crowd tonight. We try and build their confidence and then put them out on the court.

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“It really is amazing to see them light up on the court.”

The Marshall cheer captains, Michael Simmoneau, a senior in his last semester, and Lilly Haley, a junior, have been helping teach the clinic for the past three years.

While their teammates were teaching the kids the stomp, claps and dance of the famed “Cha Cha Slide,” the captains said the clinic is all about having a good time and sharing the joy of the cheer.

“We enjoy it,” said Simmoneau, a former MU football player who became a cheerleader. “It’s always fun putting smiles on little kids’ faces. It’s them looking up to us, so we try to be as fun as we can be and help them learn little things.”