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Cheerleading squad reaches for new heights

By Kris DiLorenzo

Members of the high school cheerleading team form a pyramid outside the school.


Dobbs Ferry High School is about to expand its cheerleading program to the middle school. No experience is necessary, and boys are welcome.

Tryouts begin at Springhurst Elementary School this Monday, Sept. 12, at 4:30 p.m. That day, students will be taught basic versions of a cheer, a dance, and a jump; they will have a second day to practice, and then perform on the third day. The squad will accept as many new members as are qualified.

The 18-member team currently has no males, but the school’s cheerleading coach, science teacher Kelly Rancier, who is in her fifth year at DFHS, thinks younger boys may be interested. “Middle school boys are more likely to try out than high school boys, because in high school they’re more likely to be made fun of and teased,” she told the Enterprise.

Rancier, 26, has already lined up a coach for the middle school: Victoria Francis, a Dutchess Community College student she coached five years ago while serving as assistant cheerleading coach at Carmel High School in Putnam County.

Cheerleading has changed radically since the turn of the 20th century, when the first team at the University of Minnesota — six young men called “yell leaders” — first shouted, “Varsity, Minn-e-so-ta!" By 1923, young women started becoming cheerleaders, and when most young men went off to fight in World War II, women virtually took over the sport. Now, 97 percent of cheerleaders are female, but half of college cheerleaders are male, according to Wikipedia.

In 2014, the New York School Boards Association (the Regents), and the American Medical Association recognized competitive cheerleading as a sport. Current cheerleading styles require athleticism and stamina, and put cheerleaders at risk for serious injury, so safety regulations have been put in place to protect them, for example, when they dismount from a pyramid formation or transition from one stunt to another.

The DFHS squad is made up of 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-graders. In a pyramid formation, they are divided into four flyers, four backspots, and nine bases; the remaining girl switches back and forth between frontspot and backspot positions. Flyers are the smaller girls who top the pyramid, are lifted high in the air, hold a pose, or get tossed. The bases lift people onto their shoulders, and the tallest girl in a group is the backspot, who helps the bases carry the weight of those above them and catches a flyer if she falls. Some cheerleading squads also perform tumbling and gymnastic stunts.

At DFHS, the practice schedule is grueling. It starts Memorial Day weekend and continues during the summer and through February, with sessions four or five times a week, for up to 2.5 hours each. During fall and winter, the squad cheers at weekend football and basketball games.

Senior Tenia Braithwaite, 17, a flyer and one of the squad’s four captains, was prepared for her foray into cheerleading. Braithwaite started cheerleading in ninth grade, learning to dance, cheer, and jump. Her mother, Marsha, who works for Primerica and at The Children’s Village, was a cheerleader at her Bronx high school, and is happy that her daughter has taken up the sport. “My father Joe [a wine distributor] still doesn’t think cheerleading is a sport,” Braithwaite said, "but he comes to see all my games.”

Sophomore Sophia Bloom, 15, a backspot, had no athletic background when she tried out for cheerleading. Her mother, Mary Dino, works for the Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, and her father, Scott, is director of School Mental Health Services for the New York City Department of Education. “I didn’t really grow up with sports,” Bloom said. “I do musicals; I love theater and singing. I watched gymnastics and cheerleading on TV, and thought, ‘Wow, what a really cool thing.’”

Both girls came to cheerleading partially for social reasons. Braithwaite, whose family moved to Dobbs Ferry from New Rochelle five years ago, said, “I wanted somewhere where I could feel connected to teammates and also to the town, because I was new here.”

“I took up cheerleading just to try something new,” Bloom explained. “I thought it was so cool how they got everybody up in the air.”

Rancier, a Carmel resident, has coaching in her blood. Her father, Terry, has coached for 40 years, for girls’ volleyball, boys’ basketball, girls’ softball, and bowling, mostly at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt. Her mother, Debbie, is a teaching assistant at Matthew Paterson Elementary School in Patterson. “I was a competitive gymnast from age 6 to 16,” Rancier said. “I started cheerleading in seventh grade just as something fun and new. It wasn’t as serious as gymnastics was; gymnastics was very intense and took a lot of hours in the gym. Cheerleading was a little bit of escape from all that intensity.”

Rancier, a flyer, continued cheerleading at Hofstra University, where she majored in chemistry and secondary education, and discovered that the school was “pretty hardcore.” (Hofstra’s cheerleading squad won the College Cheerleading National Championship each year from 2009 through 2012.) She hadn’t sustained any serious injuries before then, but during her time at Hofstra, Rancier sprained her ankles several times, and in her first year, tore a rotator cuff. “Other than that, I made out pretty well, compared to a lot of other people,” she remarked.

Bloom, commenting on her own mishaps, said, “I have gotten an elbow in the face sometimes. You just have to keep going and get it done.”

The DFHS team won its first competition last December, at Walter Panas High School. They also competed in January at the County Center in White Plains, placing third, and at Croton-Harmon High School in Croton-on-Hudson, placing second. In April, Rancier won a Coaches Award for “most improved team” from the Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, Cheerleading Coaches Association.

The DFHS squad dons its blue and white uniforms for the first football game of this season tomorrow (Sept. 10). Its halftime routine will last about 1.5 minutes, accompanied by custom music mixes; Rancier choreographs the moves and selects the music.

She reflected on what girls get out of cheerleading: “They build a lot of close friendships; that’s part of all sports. We’re together the longest; we’re very close. We’re actively supporting one another. Cheerleading builds confidence.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


September 9, 2016

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