• Kyodo

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A Japanese high school team’s victory in a U.S. cheerleading championship only three years after forming has inspired a film featuring popular young actress Suzu Hirose, which is scheduled for release next year.

“It’s a story of ordinary girls making their dreams come true,” said Yuko Igarashi, a 48-year-old teacher who was behind the establishment of the cheerleading club at Fukui Commercial High School in 2006. “It’s proof that people can change.”

The story begins with the protagonist, played by Hirose, joining the extracurricular club called Jets, which originated as a team of dancers cheering for the Fukui Prefecture school’s baseball team.

The tough training for competitive cheerleading and dancing leads to the departure of senior students, and the junior members that remain are forced to start from scratch. They support each other as they aim to win a competition in the United States.

“People thought we were a group going after an impossible dream,” Igarashi said.

Igarashi was inspired after watching a videotape of another Japanese high school team that won the National Dance Alliance’s large varsity team division in the United States in 2004.

The teacher said she was glued to the video of Atsugi High School students dancing to jazz and hip hop, and convinced herself that students at her school should follow suit, despite opposition from colleagues.

A rigorous program devised to propel the club to victory in the U.S. competition proved too much for second- and third-year students, with many of the 60 initial members opting out.

The Fukui school invited a coach from Atsugi High in Kanagawa Prefecture to train the students once a month. The sessions were videotaped and reviewed thoroughly.

The students’ efforts resulted in victory in the large varsity team performance at the NDA National Championship for cheerleaders and dancers in 2009 and in international team performance for four straight years through 2016.

“We were desperate to learn everything there was to learn,” said Maho Mitamura, a 26-year-old member of the team that achieved the first victory. “When we won, we were happy beyond words.”

Mitamura has been coaching the cheerleading club at the school since graduating.

“We hope the movie will encourage people who are taking on challenges,” Mitamura said. “Chia Dan” (“Cheer Dance”) is expected to hit screens in Japan in March.

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