New coaches step up rigor for cheerleading program

by Paige Heiden
New coaches have taken over the cheerleading squads this year. Physical education teacher Melinda Toto and art teacher Tara Aker bring some fundamental changes to the program, including the squad’s conditioning, attendance requirements and possible future involvement in cheer competitions.
The cheerleaders’ expectations are different from previous years. “Toto and Aker have changed the level of commitment you need in order to cheerlead,” said varsity captain, senior Julia Lavelle. “We practice until 4:30 or 5:00 after school, like other sports. We also have conditioning practices.”
   Toto wanted to coach cheerleading because she coached a Pop Warner team when she was younger. In her freshman year of high school her favorite teacher was also her cheerleading coach.
“I love cheerleading. I have been doing it my whole life and I miss it,” said Toto. “I was excited to get the chance to do it again and give it a breath of fresh air.”
The athletes are hopeful students will recognize how the program has evolved.
“We hope to get as many or even more fans to the football games [to support the cheerleading squad] and as a whole be taken more seriously,” said junior varsity captain, sophomore Maggie DiVirgilio. “Step one was when Mrs. B [Laura Friedman], the athletic trainer, gave us our own water jug at a recent football game.”
Also, if a varsity cheerleader misses two practices she cannot cheer at the next game.
“We are looking better as a whole everyday. There have been discussions of competitions here and there, but nothing serious,” said DiVirgilio. “I think by next season we will get more into it.”
The members of both teams look forward to competitions, but for right now, “we’re taking baby steps,” said Toto.
On the junior varsity level, “you can only miss two practices and two games without a doctors note, which is much stricter than last year,” said sophomore Jocelyn Michnowski.
One indicator of the progress of these changes was at the Union County Cheerleading Expo that took place at Brearley High School in November. The varsity squad placed second in the halftime routine, and junior varsity placed first in the Hello Cheer Competition, a competition for local high schools.
To increase their chances at future competitions, the varsity squad has added more elements such as baskets (a stunt where a cheerleader is thrown into the air and caught by others), more stunts and pyramids with the entire squad .
“The girls are trying new things and they are very dedicated,” said Toto. “They have amazed me every day.”
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