Classmates, teammates, and now, national champions.
The competitive cheerleading team beat out 29 other teams at the annual AmeriCheer International Championship held in Florida this week. Teams were grouped by their size.The team came in second place to Notre Dame High School from Niles, Ill. for three straight years before beating them by a half point this year.
“I can’t think of a better way to end it,” said Michelle Rosa, a senior and one of the team's five co-captains. She is the only participant who has cheered in the competition for four consecutive years. “It’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
The 25-member team season begins practicing in August and begins entering competitions in December.
“Every year I’ve seen the program get better and better,” said coach Jennifer Pulizzano, who has coached the team since it was founded in 2004. Rosa and fellow co-captain Stephanie Dorgan have been cheering together since the first grade.
Pulizzano cares more about how the girls learn and grow together as a team and mature as young women more than winning.
This year proved to be especially challenging for Pulizzano and her team. Ten new girls joined and a few others were out of competitions with injuries.
“You start wondering ‘okay, where do I start’,” Pulizzano said. “But they worked hard and progressed quickly and look at what we have to show for it now.”
Competitive cheerleading is very different from traditional cheerleading. Routines are very choreographed and contain lots of stunts. They are brief, only about two and a half minutes long, but intense.
“I put more effort into that two and a half minutes than I do into a 90-minute long soccer game,” said co-captain Johnna Ellis. “I’m exhausted afterwards, but that’s what’s so rewarding about it. Knowing that we’re all like that when a routine is done means we all gave our best.”
The team has enjoyed a lot of success this season. The girls placed first in six out of 10 competitions, including one they hosted at Wayne Valley last weekend and at the in January. The team finished earlier this month.
The sense of comrade, of sisterhood, together with the absence of selfishness, is necessary for a competitive cheerleading team to succeed.
“If one girl goes out on a mat and starts thinking about herself, that’s when you see the downfall of a routine,” Pulizzano said. “You have to have one heart when you go out there. That’s what these girls have, that’s why they won, and that’s why I’m so proud of them.”