Chanting cheers in unison, performing choreographed routines and pumping up the crowd are likely just a few of the things one saw this season from a group of students during basketball games this season in the Belfast Area High School gymnasium.

Whether they are “officially” recognized by their school as a varsity sport or not does not change the fact that the Lion boys and girls hoop teams certainly had their own cheering section this season, as a handful of students and a determined coach took it upon themselves to form their own club cheering team this season.

The cheering squad is coached by Melinda LeBlanc, who moved back to Maine in June along with her family after living in Connecticut.

LeBlanc and her family had originally moved to Maine in 2006 after having lived in Connecticut for years. LeBlanc was a cheering coach for 15 years in Connecticut prior to her initial move to the Pine Tree State.

LeBlanc and her 22-year-old-daughter Felicia Rence noticed during a football game, in which her son Robert was playing, this fall that there was certainly something missing from the athletic atmosphere.

“My daughter and I basically said, ‘They really need a cheerleading squad,’ ” she said.

The cheering team, which fluctuated in numbers over the course of the winter season, began the season with nine students and ended with the same number. One of the constants on the team was LeBlanc’s son Kyle, who is a freshman this year at BAHS. Her son Robert, who plays football, is a sophomore.

Belfast has not had a cheering squad in “seven or eight years,” according to Belfast athletic director Mark Babin, and LeBlanc felt it was time to revive the program.

They knew they could not start during the football season due to the fact the season was half over when the idea bloosomed, so they set their sights on the upcoming basketball season to make their cheering debut.

Of course, it wasn’t just as easy as that. There were a few hoops to jump through.

The school does not currently have the budget to maintain a full-fledged varsity cheering program. Paying for the coaching stipend, along with new uniforms, transportation costs and practice mats would cost about $6,500 to start.

While the school cannot currently fund the program, the club team certainly has the support of Babin, who hopes to have it become a varsity team in the future.

“We are in hopes that down the road it will turn into a full-fledged sport,” said Babin. “Right now, due to budget constraints I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. The plan right now is for it to continue as a club sport and they’ve done an amazing job fundraising, getting uniforms and getting themselves established.”

Babin added that not only is it unlikely for cheering to be a varsity sport at BAHS in the immediate future, but due to budget constraints, certain varsity and subvarsity sports at Belfast could be cut for the 2010-11 school year. He added this is a problem facing many schools throughout the area.

The team had plenty of local businesses and organizations that donated money and supplies to help them buy uniforms. Between that and things such as bake sales and yard sales, they raised roughly $2,000 dollars, which bought them 14 uniforms.

“We were able to raise a lot of money in a very short period of time,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve also had some excellent parent support, so it’s been really cool.”

It also took a bit of convincing, as the idea of a cheering squad did not exactly resonate with many members of the student body. However, the sport is now beginning to create more attention now that the team has been seen in action this season at basketball games.

“At the beginning it was like, ‘You’re a cheerleader?,’ ” said LeBlanc. “There was not a lot of support from their peers. But as the kids started seeing what we were doing with them and the level they had to be at like the jumps and the stunting, and they saw that it wasn’t just a ‘rah-rah’ kind of sport, we’re gaining more interest.”

Babin hopes the team can expand to begin cheering for other Lion sports in the future.

LeBlanc also took the team to a few cheering competitions this season, including the state Class B championships at the Augusta Civic Center, so the team could see firsthand the potential for the future if the squad continues to grow.

This year the young athletes cheered exclusively at the boys varsity basketball games (or boys and girls varsity doubleheaders), but Babin hopes they can expand that to other sports in the future.

LeBlanc is also working on a feeder program in both the middle school and elementary school levels in an effort to continue to generate interest in the coming years. She added that, while this year was fun, it was also challenging given the fact that many of the students who joined had little experience, and hopes that putting a feeder program in place will help the students along.

She is also planning on holding a two-day clinic in June with a choreographer coming from Rhode Island, and has invited roughly 40 schools to attend. The age levels are 8-11, 12-14 and 14 and older. LeBlanc added they plan to offer three scholarships at roughly $85 apiece for three participants, with all entrants having to write an essay of what cheering means to them.

While the light has not yet been lit on the possibility of a Lion varsity cheering squad in the future, LeBlanc and her team are moving forward as if it is a foregone conclusion.

“They’re building something for the future,” said Babin.

Only time will tell.

Click for more photos from Belfast cheering.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.