Photo Gallery | Berkshire County Cheerleading Championship
CHESHIRE — Coach Shavelle Boire anxiously awaited her Pittsfield High School cheerleaders to execute their two-and-half minute routine during the Berkshire County/Pioneer Valley League Championship. Boire stood behind the judges table hoping for — and getting — a winning performance.
"My heart is pounding, we just added a new part to our routine," she said.
The Pittsfield High girls took to the cushy mats at center court in the Hoosac Valley Regional High School gymnasium and the girls tumbled, danced and cheered their way to a first place finish in their division.
In all, 15 varsity cheerleading squads from the Berkshires and Springfield area competed Sunday afternoon, with all but two qualifying for post-season competition. Pittsfield, Hoosac Valley and Drury High School were among the 11 headed to next weekends Western Massachusetts regionals in the traditional cheerleading category. Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield and South Hadley advanced to the state championships in the newly created "Game Day" level.
Traditional cheerleading routines include tumbling, cartwheels or handstands, forming a pyramid, a cheer, dance and partner stunt — four cheerleaders holding up one teammate, according to Hoosac coach Kayleigh Colombero. The Game Day routine consists of the limited cheers done on the sideline or at half time of a high school football or basketball game.
Colombero says carrying out a traditional routine requires strength, agility and coordination — just like any other team sport.
"When it comes to competition it's [also] about endurance," she said. "Two-and-half minutes can feel like a lifetime."
"Throwing girls into the air is not as easy as it looks," added senior Sarah Hecht, captain of the Pittsfield cheerleaders.
A Hoosac Valley cheerleader 13 years ago, Colombero returned to her alma mater to teach and revive Hoosac cheerleading. Colombero was on the Hurricanes team that won a state championship in 2003, the only Berkshire squad ever to do so.
On the decline in recent years at some local high schools — Hoosac didn't have a cheerleading squad last year — the choreographed athletic activity is having bit of a resurgence thanks to some up-and-coming talent. Hoosac has only one senior on this year's squad; with sophomore Brooke Kleiner emerging as a stellar performer in her inaugural season, according to Colombero. Kleiner has enjoyed cheering for the football team and finds the camaraderie refreshing amongst the girls.
"It's like no other team I've been on," she said. "No one is rude to you, everyone gets along."
In Dalton, Wahconah Regional High School loses no one to graduation in June as 14 of the 19 Warriors cheerleaders are rookies.
Despite a majority of first-timers, one veteran, sophomore Kaylea Cornwell, feels the team improved during the three regular season competitions.
"The new girls understand how to compete, they are over [being nervous] now," she said.
However, coaches and parents still fret, some mothers fearful of injury. Donna Poulton's daughter Becca plays softball and basketball, but worries most during cheerleading competitions.
"This is more nerve wracking only because we've watched other girls fall and some have suffered concussions," Poulton said.
Traditionally an all-female sport on the local high-school level, cheerleading has attracted male students to Mount Everett and Drury — the Blue Devils with seniors Chris Andrews and Mike Mazzu. The two guys joined the Drury squad this year, welcomed by the girls who found the fans enjoy watching the co-ed performances.
Andrews wasn't concerned about student body reaction, he was too busy learning the cheers and meshing with his teammates.
"I didn't get comfortable until after our first competition," he said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
Results of the Berkshire County/Pioneer Valley League Championship (listed in order of finish)
Hoosac Valley *
Pittsfield High *
Chicopee Comp *
West Springfield *
Springfield Central *
* Qualified for Western Mass. regionals
South Hadley **
Mount Everett **
** Qualified for state championships