Newburyport cheerleading back competing after year-long absence

BRYAN EATON/Staff Photo Newburyport High School cheerleaders pose for a team photo prior to the start of football season.

NEWBURYPORT – After a one-year hiatus, competitive cheering is back at Newburyport High School, and with the start of the competition season fast approaching the team is working hard to get back into the swing of things and put on a good show when it’s time to hit the mat.

“The season’s been going great for the kids,” said Newburyport coach Nadine Holohan. “There are a lot of new kids, we’re a very young team, and a lot of them are new to any kind of varsity program. So it’s been a lot for them but they’re taking it in.”

It’s been a long and meticulous process for Holohan, who has 25 years of coaching experience and is effectively rebuilding the Newburyport cheering program from scratch. Last year, she took over the program after the previous coach moved on, but because she was already the head cheering coach at Merrimack College, she wasn’t able to fully commit to the program, and as a result, the team couldn’t compete.

This year, when the school still couldn’t find a full-time replacement, she agreed to help out again, but this time when her athletes approached her and said they wanted to compete, she decided to give it a shot.

“They wanted to be competitive and I couldn’t say no,” she said. “You make a connection with these kids and you care.”

Even though the team only hadn’t been competing for a year, Holohan said it felt like it’d been a lot longer. Because cheerleading is inherently a dangerous sport, it’s crucial that everybody has the basics down before you move on to the more advanced stuff, because if someone isn’t ready, there’s a good chance that someone is going to fall and get hurt.

“I’m really strict with them since it’s so dangerous,” she said. “If you don’t start from square one and go over everything with them, you can’t do the harder stuff. So they’re grasping it, because they have no other option.”

The other challenge is that unlike in most sports, where teams have a chance to play games and improve throughout the season, most of the fall cheering season is dedicated to practice and honing the team’s skills. By the time competition starts in late October, the team has to be ready to go, because ultimately a team is scored on its perfection, and there aren’t many second chances if you have a bad day.

That being said, Holohan said the kids have come a long way, and there are a number of athletes on the team who had prior experience and are probably talented enough to compete in college at some level. She said the team has also benefited from the help she’s gotten from some of her Merrimack cheerleaders, who sometimes come down to offer the kids advice and Holohan an extra set of eyes.

“They love their sport, and you talk to any athlete that loves their sport and they want to help anybody they can,” Holohan said. “Even though they’re my cheerleaders at Merrimack, they’re old enough where they understand the respect line but they can still be like assistant coaches here, and the kids really look up to them, I think it’s nice for the kids.”

Because Merrimack doesn’t start competing until later in the winter, balancing the two teams has turned out to be more workable than she initially expected, though Holohan said it’s still pretty crazy and a seven days a week commitment.

Regardless, the next few weeks should be busy for the team, who will be cheering at tomorrow’s football game against Triton while also preparing for CALs at Masconomet on Nov. 6. Should the team do well, there’s a chance they could qualify for Regionals, and potentially more after that.

But for now, Holohan’s message to her athletes is simple. Be the best you can be.

“I tell them to go against your own score, better your score from whatever it was before and shoot to try to make Regionals,” she said.

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