Erin Dempsey, Triton's new Cheerleading coach.

The Triton athletic department continues to raise eyebrows throughout the River Rival community.

After two curious non-renewals of coaching contracts in recent months | Vikings hockey coach Drew Wile dismissed after one season, and Vikings cheerleading coach Kristen Almquist bid farewell after five | Triton's most recent hiring may be the biggest surprise.

Athletic director Dave Dempsey hired his daughter, Erin Dempsey, 28, on Dec. 6 to replace Almquist.

The hiring would appear to do nothing to assuage the concerns of Triton cheerleaders and parents who protested Dempsey's decision to replace Almquist prior to the winter sports season. The cheerleaders staged a silent protest during halftime of the Thanksgiving Day football game against Pentucket | Almquist's last obligation as coach | by holding signs showing their support for their dismissed coach.

Also on Thanksgiving, the Triton cheerleaders' parents started a petition to have Almquist reinstated. At least one parent of each of the 24 cheerleaders signed it.

Superintendent Sandra Halloran later granted a meeting to the parents to hear their concerns, but Almquist's dismissal was upheld.

Parents were not given specific reasons for Almquist's dismissal at the meeting. The team's performance would not figure to be a factor; the Vikings competed in the EMass. Division 3 state competition each the last three seasons.

"We don't discuss personnel issues," Dempsey said yesterday. "I can confirm Erin is the coach. That's where we're at."

Erin Dempsey began teaching English at Triton Regional High in September. Her cheerleading resume includes four years as a participant at Bishop Fenwick | including one as a captain | before her graduation in 1997. She attended the University of New Hampshire's undergraduate program and Emerson College's master's program before accepting a job coaching at Yellowjackets All-Star Cheerleading in Middleton.

Because of her late hire in relation to the start of the winter sports season (Nov. 26), many parents of cheerleaders feared their daughters would join other sports teams or quit altogether. For that reason, Triton Principal Kevin McLaughlin asked Almquist to return as a consultant to Dempsey.

"Most people wouldn't have done it," Almquist said. "I think the principal was a little shocked I said yes. But I want the team to succeed. By accepting a consulting role, I could lend my understanding of what it would take to get the program back on track."

Almquist attended one of Dempsey's first practices but was not invited to return until Dec. 26. Almquist could not attend that practice due to a prior engagement, and Erin Dempsey has not extended an invitation since. Almquist has not been in contact with her former athletic director since his daughter's hire.

"I went to that first practice because I wanted to meet the new coach," Almquist said. "I wanted to see how she could use me. Erin said, 'Let me wrap my head around this for a few days, and I'll let you know what you can do.' Every e-mail since has been really vague saying things like, 'I'll be in touch.' Now I haven't heard anything since Dec. 26."

Several parents of Triton cheerleaders were contacted last evening but were unwilling to comment on the record.

Almquist said she suspected Erin Dempsey would be her successor upon discovering she would not be rehired. Dempsey and Nadine Holohan are the only members of the Triton faculty with cheerleading experience | Dempsey at Yellowjacket All-Stars and Holohan at Timberlane Academy. Almquist teaches in Chelsea.

"Was I shocked it was the AD's daughter? Yes," Almquist said. "But I figured he'd go with one of those two candidates. Even though Erin's background is not in high school, which is much different, I figured that was a possibility."

Erin Dempsey would not confirm whether she discussed coaching cheerleading at Triton with her father prior to Almquist's dismissal.

"I'm not going to get into the details of the hiring," Erin Dempsey said. "I love the sport of cheerleading. I've always wanted to give back through coaching."

Erin Dempsey said there are 22 girls on the winter cheerleading squad | two fewer than the fall team.

"I don't want to make an assumption as to why there are fewer girls," Dempsey said. "There are girls that don't do it in the winter because they play other sports. So that's not something I could answer without making an assumption."

Triton will compete Feb. 2 for the first time under Dempsey.

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