WHITE PLAINS – It has been a chaotic week for Roy C. Ketcham’s cheerleading team. So much so, there were some doubts if the team would be able to compete in the Section 1 championships at White Plains High School on Saturday.
Due to “school and team drama,” in the words of assistant coach Chloe Swain, the team only sent six of the team’s 12 cheerleaders, and without head coach Stephanie Duquesne, to the competition with a brand-new routine that the remaining members only had three days to fine-tune.
In the end, the team, by far the smallest in the competition, overcame the odds, beating out defending title holders John Jay to win the sectional coed/mixed division championship and secure a spot at states.
“It feels empowering, especially after the week we had,” Swain said. “They came together, they worked twice as hard and they came out on top. This is what they get for working so hard, it’s amazing.”
The remaining six performers: Sophomore Gillian DeBard, juniors Isabelle Smith, Claudette Garcia and Anna D’Amato and seniors Sam Ross and Karina Orwick; all had little margin for error.
“It was the first time performing this routine,” said Ross, the team’s lone male cheerleader. “I’ve got to be honest, I was nervous; my stomach was in knots, but it was good nerves.”
Further complicating matters was that Orwick had recently returned to performing after recovering from back surgery that had sidelined her for six months.
“I just started tumbling yesterday,” Orwick said. “I’m so proud of everybody. For everyone to come together and do that in three days … it has been an interesting year, to say the least.”
The team’s performance, highlighted by Ross’ athletic and crisp tumbling routine, drew a huge ovation from the crowd.
“They all dominated,” Swain said. “The girls would always be able to pull it together. We’re Ketcham, we’ve always been able to pull it together.”
Ross was named to the all-section team after earning the highest score for a male in the sectional individual tryouts on Wednesday.
“I’m humbled and blessed to even have the opportunity to win this,” he said. “This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, with a group of girls I love from the bottom of my heart. I wouldn’t give this moment up for anything.”
John Jay, which won last year’s mixed title, came in second place, while Arlington also competed in the mixed division.
“John Jay is an amazing team, and they have some amazing athletes,” Ross said. “I’ve never seen them look so good this season.”
By winning the mixed division title, Ketcham will be one of five Section 1 schools that will head upstate to Syracuse to compete in the state tournament at the SRC Arena and Events Center in Onondaga Community College on Saturday, March 4th.
“Everyone was iffy about coming today. In the back of our minds, we said ‘we only have six people,’ but we were going to try our best and have fun,” Ross said. “Even if it was our last performance, we wanted it to be something that we would remember.”
When the team gets up to Syracuse, it will be with the same six that got them the sectional title.
“You never know in cheerleading, and that’s what’s going to carry us into states,” Ross said. “I know that we are going to work our butts off for the next two weeks, and when we get to Syracuse, we’re going to put on a show like we did today.”
“Even better,” Orwick added. “We all believe in each other more than we ever have before.”
Adrian Szkolar writes for the Journal News in Westchester County. Follow him on Twitter: @Szkolar_Lohud.