Don’t say that cheerleading isn’t a sport around these young ladies. For them, cheerleading is everything.
The competitive cheerleading team at has enjoyed numerous successes this season, including .
For some teams, that would be enough, but not for these girls. The team is set to compete in the Universal Spirit National Competition in Orlando, Fla. in late March, an honor that is the collimation of a season’s worth of hard work that began in August.
“Cheering is strenuous, it’s dangerous, and we condition as much as any football player does throughout the season,” said Brittany Warther, one of three seniors on the team. “People think that we just get together and cheer for a couple of hours a day, but there’s much more to do it than that.”
Many of the girls on the team have been cheering since they were in second or third grade on local recreation teams. Training camp opens in August and the season ends eight months in March at nationals. The team starts every practice by running.
While tryouts aren’t necessarily held for the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman cheering teams, they are for the competitive team. About 60 girls compose the freshman, junior varsity, and varsity squads, only 14 make the competitive roster. The team does cheer at basketball games, but no other sporting events.
“What you see from a team on the sidelines of a game is prepared for the sidelines and you can do it with little to no training,” coach Tonianne Piccirillo said. “But to be on the competitive team, you need to be an athlete. You need to be able to go through a rigorous practice and still finish strong.”
Each performer must trust every one else on the team. Everyone must work, and move, as a unit, the same as a football or baseball team would on the field. Trust is essential.
“You have to trust the rest of the team if you’re going to put the best you can into your routine,” Piccirillo said. “You have to know that the person standing next to you is giving her all because if you are, and the person next to you isn’t, then that’s what everyone is going to see.”
Like synchronized swimmers or Olympic-class figure skaters, every move, from the position of the girls’ arms to the smile on their faces, is scrutinized by the judges during their two-and-a-half minute routines. The routines are a combination of cheering and coordinated dancing and gymnastics moves, including flips, jumps, and tumbles.
“People are moving all around you and you’re throwing someone up in the air and they are depending on you to catch them,” Alexis Couso said. “There’s nothing more unnatural than having someone falling toward you but that’s part of being on the team. You learn and grow and trust each other."
Fighting through injuries is a part of competitive cheering. Just as athletes fight through them in a game or practice, so too must these girls.
“If I get injured, it doesn’t bother me, just finish the routine, I’ll worry about it later,” Couso said. “There’s someone falling on you. You’re job is to sacrifice your body to ensure she lands safely.”
That attitude of sacrificing one’s body for the betterment of the team exemplifies the bond that exists between the girls.
“We know each other so well and we all want to do this,” Alexa Cohen said. “Other people want to play sports, we want to cheer. There’s nothing else we’d rather do.”