With such a young and inexperienced group, it was almost to be expected that nerves would set in. After all, this was the Section 9 cheerleading championship and at stake was a chance to qualify for the state tournament.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt High School squad understood that, and with all its fledgling members, the pressure certainly was felt.
But as it turned out, the only thing Roosevelt had to fear was fear itself.
The Presidents dazzled the judges with their charisma, stunts and an array of acrobatics to capture a Section 9 title on Saturday at Sullivan County Community College.
“The girls were definitely nervous and anxious going in, and even afterwards it took a little while to even sink in,” Roosevelt coach Fran White said of her team’s first section title. “It felt almost like a dream that we were able to achieve this.”
In the seven-team competition, Roosevelt edged Minisink Valley by two points to win the large school, small team title. The Presidents earned a berth to the state meet on March 4 at the SRC Arena in Syracuse.
The Presidents will be joined there by Roy C. Ketcham High School, which won the coed division of the Section 1 cheer tournament on Saturday.
“The girls were in disbelief,” White said of Roosevelt’s reaction to being announced the winner. “They were beyond excited. It’s always your goal to win and you want to get to states, but the emotion is strong when it actually comes true.”
Roosevelt is led by seniors Becca Gibson, Amber Lajszky and Emily Nealy, but underclassmen comprise the bulk of its 15-person roster. Their skill level was “average” when the season began in November, White said, but the group worked feverishly to improve and mold itself into championship form.
Ali Coelho passed on her eighth-grade class trip to join the team at the sectional meet, White said. And to show their appreciation last Friday, her teammates threw her a surprise party.
Only in recent years has cheerleading been recognized as a competitive varsity sport by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. The Presidents took second in Section 9’s inaugural tournament last year. But the team announced itself in January, winning a title in the John Jay Cheer Invitational and putting on a show that proved it would be a force. The team also took first in the Indian Rumble competition at Ketcham two weeks ago.
Each team had only 2 ½ minutes to showcase its skills while being graded on stunts, jumps, dance, pyramids, crowd appeal and formations last Saturday. Roosevelt packed that frenetic sequence with high-flying feats seeking to wow the audience. Those, of course, required expert choreography and precise execution. Check and check.
It helps that the Roosevelt cheerleaders are chaperoned by their own cheering section. Their fans often fill a section of the gymnasium and belt their own cheers and chants during the team’s performance.
“Our fans and parents were incredible,” White said. “They pumped the team up so much and that definitely helps.”
As does practicing six days per week. White said the team will maintain its schedule in preparation for states and will use a routine similar to the one that earned them the championship. But there will be a few additional stunts and difficult maneuvers weaved in as a surprise.
“I’m sure they’ll be excited and nervous again going to states,” the coach said. “But they’ve done an outstanding job in our competitions. I don’t even have the words to describe how proud I am of them.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
Franklin D. Roosevelt cheerleading team
* two members of the team are out injured