They’ve been making a lot of noise in downtown Newburyport over the holiday season so they can make some more at Walt Disney World next year.
“This is the Super Bowl of cheerleading,” said director of the Newburyport Youth Cheerleading program and A Team coach Hollis Caswell, who will be bringing her 12- to 14-year-olds to Orlando to compete in the National High School Cheerleading Championships Feb. 8-9. “We’re very excited that we have the opportunity to go.”
Both Caswell’s A Team and the D Team (ages 8-10) won their bids to Nationals at the New England Cheer and Dance Competition in November. The A Team finished in second place in their division behind Mitchell Memorial and the D Team tied for second with East Bridgewater and behind Silver Lake.
“For me, as a coach, this is big,” said Caswell. “I went last year but not as a coach. This is my team. It’s very exciting to be a coach that is going this year. But for the program, this is huge. This is a dream come true for the girls.”
A Newburyport native and former cheer captain at Newburyport High School, Hollis has coached one NYC squad or another for the last six years and watched as the D Team made it to Nationals last year. But now it’s her middle school students who will be joining the third- and fourth-graders.
“I knew their chances were small and they would have to execute the routine perfectly to be able to win at the New England Cheer and Dance Competition,” said Caswell. “The other teams were just that good.”
It turns out the A Team were better than all but one in their division and the scene at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston when they placed second was electric.
“Everybody started screaming and yelling and crying,” said Caswell. “So much so that I don’t think we even realized they were still giving out awards for other teams at that point. We were in our own little bubble. There was all this other stuff going on around us and we were completely oblivious to it after we won our award.”
“I didn’t know if it was real,” added A Team member Chloe Hansen. “I thought it was a dream, I didn’t even know. I started crying and jumping up and down. It was amazing.”
Now that the adulation has died down, reality has arrived and the girls need to raise the estimated $1,000 for each of their 27 girls to cover the cost of the trip, tickets and room and board. The teams have been marching in Santa parades and singing Christmas carols in downtown Newburyport, doing whatever they can to keep their dream alive.
“It’s a really difficult time to ask for money, we understand that,” said Caswell. “It’s Christmas, it’s Hanukkah. People are trying to pay for educations. But the girls have really tried hard to be out there and go out there and explain what they are doing and what it means to them.”
So far, the NYC girls have received over $500 in donations during the first Newburyport Invitation Night on Friday and will be hosting a Don’t Call Me Shirley concert and silent auction fundraiser that will be held at Nicholson Hall this Friday night beginning at 6. As the funds come in, the girls will keep honing their routines of partner stunts, flipped pyramids, triple jumps, forward cartwheels and handsprings.
“Cheerleading is definitely a sport, we compete. It kind of combines dance, gymnastics and athleticism, all in one,” said Caswell. “You get the gymnastics that most girls love to do. You get the dance aspect that most of the girls like to do and then you get the athletic sport of the physical building and strengthening and conditioning that you have. It’s all rolled into cheerleading so it makes a very fun, intense sport.”
All that intensity and all that training have paid off enough to give Caswell and her girls the trip of a lifetime.
“It’s really awesome and I’m really excited,” the A Team’s Amy Wolpert who has been cheering with NYC for the past five years said of making Nationals. “I’m expecting hard competition and a lot of fun but a lot of nerves.”