All cheer, little fear for this Warrior
Santino Nelson ignores concerns of bullying to cheer for Warriors
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By Dave Williams  October 26, 2012 12:00 am

Santino Nelson and his mother, Audrey, were well aware he could be subjected to bullying when he expressed an interest in becoming a cheerleader for the Rohnert Park Warriors football and cheer organization.

Conventional wisdom and old traditions say 11-year-old boys should be competing in sports of some sort, not performing cheers with girls. Well, actually, Santino plays organized basketball, but that’s just something he does to pass the time while waiting for the cheer season. Performing has always been a passion for Santino Nelson. It was something his mother noticed long before he told her he wanted to cheer.

“He’s always loved to dance,” Audrey says. “When we were in our old neighborhood (in Santa Rosa), 20 kids would come over, and he’d put on cheer routines and dances in our neighborhood. He’d  make outfits and have performances in our garage.”
The Nelsons have since moved to Windsor, but Santino travels to Rohnert Park at least three times a week to practice with the Warriors Pee Wee cheer squad. Santino maintains interests outside cheering.

“I do skiing with grandpa, dad and my brother,” he said. “And when I was little I did soccer for about two or three years.”
Santino’s interest in cheerleading was piqued by his cousin, Hannah Steverson, who is in her fourth year of cheering with the Warriors.

“Sometimes she was bored and asked me to do cheers,” Santino said. “I thought it was boring at first, but it was fun after that. I like the cheers and the moves and how you get to be competitive in spirit.”

Audrey admitted she was quite concerned about her son being ridiculed and bullied because of his decision to cheer. But she said her fears were calmed after lengthy discussions with her son, who said he had fears of being bullied but assured her he could handle it.

“He’s always been outgoing and always hung around girls, and he’s always been teased for that,” she said. “But you’re always worried about your child, and trouble can come from across the board. But we’re close, our family’s close. And we’ve always told him to be who you are, love yourself and your family loves you. Whoever loves you will love you no matter what. Do what you like and love what you love and cheer.”

The Rohnert Park Warriors Youth Football and Cheer have, according to Audrey, been a perfect fit for Santino.

“They were really supportive, accepting and wanted him to come in,” she said. “Other organizations were not as supportive. But the Warriors people were nice and friendly. It’s been a good experience. They’re really family oriented.”

Audrey is convinced her son’s personality can win over anyone who approaches with negative vibes.

“Most of the time, people think that it’s weird until they get to know him as a person, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Santino.’”
Traveling from Windsor to Rohnert Park three to four times a week has proved hectic at times, especially considering schoolwork. But the Nelsons have it worked out to where Santino does a little bit of homework in the afternoon before practice and then wakes up at 5:30 or 6 the following morning to finish his homework.

“Sometimes, it’s like I have to pull him out of bed by his ears,” Audrey said.

This is Santino’s first year as a cheerleader, and he helped his squad win first place last weekend at a cheer competition hosted by Rohnert Park Warriors Youth Football and Cheer. The competition also was his first. Any doubts about Santino making the right decision vanished immediately after the competition.

“When he came running up to me smiling after the competition…that puts you back in a place where you just don’t question things,”  she said.
Said Santino, “What I like most about cheering is you work hard, you’re part of a group and you’re winning first place.”

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