Tori Cummings offers a standing invitation to her team’s practices for anyone who thinks cheerleading doesn’t demand much effort or ability.
“Just watch us and you’ll get tired,” predicted Tori, 16, a junior at Bishop Kearney High School.
Stacie Barco reports a similar reaction among peers at Aquinas Institute after taking cheerleading as a physical-education elective. Generally such students find it surprisingly strenuous.
“They get a taste of it, and when the lesson is done I think they gain a little more respect for us,” said Stacie, 18, a senior.
“People don’t realize how much work goes into being a cheerleader. We practice so hard — we’ve had three-hour practices five times a week lately,” said Danielle Felter, 17, another Aquinas senior.
Successful cheerleaders must be in top physical shape and perform precise choreography for their intricate tumbles, dances, jumps and chants. This may explain why cheerleaders consider their craft a bona fide sport — far more than an activity supporting the basketball and football teams.
“A lot of people underestimate the sport of cheerleading. They don’t see it as a sport because it’s not a game,” said BK senior Carla DiGuardi, 17.
This battle for respect also can be chalked up to the stereotype of cheerleading as a status symbol, one way to win a date with the star quarterback. However, Carla said most cheerleaders “have spent their lives doing this, since they were 8 or 9 years old. It’s what we do, what we love. We have three-hour practices a day, so you don’t do it just to be popular.”
Tori and Carla at Bishop Kearney and Stacie and Danielle at Aquinas are co-captains of renowned varsity cheerleading programs that have won a slew of championships. These titles are attained from various competitions during the school year.
Kearney and Aquinas won their respective divisions at the Section 5 cheerleading championships this fall. Each school has won several other titles at local — and occasionally even higher — levels. In early 2004 Kearney placed first at a state tumbling competition, and Aquinas captured a title at the CANAM national championships.
These achievements are built on proud traditions. Aquinas’ first-year head coach is Cheryl Chaffee, who also coached the junior varsity for two years and cheered all four years she attended Aquinas. Kearney, meanwhile, has been guided for 26 highly successful years by head coach Mary Ann Walker.
“Our coaching is one of the biggest parts of our success,” said BK’s Carla.
Stacie, Danielle and Carla got their starts in cheerleading in elementary school, through youth football and Catholic Youth Organization basketball. In fact, Stacie said the reputation of CYO cheerleading at her parish, Rochester’s Holy Cross, set the tone for the high standards that followed in high school.
“I came from such a successful team, and when I got to Aquinas it was like that,” Stacie said.
Tori, on the other hand, took part in other sports prior to cheerleading. “I will be honest — I always thought, ‘Cheerleading isn’t half as hard.’ Once I got into it, it was a completely different story,” said Tori, who took up cheerleading in eighth grade and is now “so in love with the sport” — especially when competitions roll around.
“You just get this energy … something comes out of your team that we can’t even explain,” remarked Tori, a parishioner of St. Mary’s in Rochester.
That extra edge is necessary when your team is being watched closely — particularly by the judges. “There’s really not a chance for you to mess up. It’s a lot of pressure,” Tori acknowledged.
Yet Tori said it’s all worth it when her Bishop Kearney team walks away with a trophy. “It’s the best feeling,” agreed Carla, a parishioner of Irondequoit’s Christ the King.
The joy of success, along with the energetic yells and smiles that accompany their routines, often seem extensions of cheerleaders’ natural personalities. That’s one stereotype that Danielle, a parishioner of St. Leo’s in Hilton, has no problem with.
“We’re always in a good mood,” Danielle stated. “There’s no reason to be down. We love what we do.”