Cheerleaders are ready for the big time

| 22 Feb 2012 | 07:56

HAMBURG - Wallkill Valley cheerleaders have worked hard all year to experience warm weather in the middle of winter...and hopefully the title of National Champions. The squad of 16 girls will travel down to Orlando to compete in the Contest of Champions at the Wide World of Sports in Disney on Feb. 28 for the first time, competing in the large division. “It’s a good opportunity to prove to people there’s more to cheerleading than they think,” said Stephanie Russell of Hamburg. Dedication “Everyone’s attitudes are positive, we have a lot of team spirit,” said Lindsay Nichols of Hardyston. Most of the girls on the squad have been cheerleading for over 10 years. “It’s a lot of dedication, you have to sacrifice a lot, but in the end when we hit the mats, it’s all worth it,” said Ashley Rillo of Ogdensburg. “Our hardest lift is a back handspring into a switch hitch.” “We try our hardest to stick every stunt,” Alyssa Indri, Hardyston, said. The girls aren’t the only ones who have worked hard to get where they are. Cheer mom Michele Sweeney of Hamburg has had two daughters involved with Wallkill cheerleading for the last seven years. “I sort of feel like an expert right now; it takes a lot of dedication, because it’s a really long season,” Sweeney said. “Football, basketball and competition, there’s a lot of things to attend, plus the fundraising.” The fundraising It costs about $800 a girl to go to Nationals; the school doesn’t contribute. To raise money, the team hosts two Longaberger Basket bingo events, held in November and May. They also host a grammar and high school competition, which will occur on Feb. 20 during the school’s winter break. During football season, the girls hosted a half-time clinic with the younger girls, where they came and cheered during the football game. Between candle sales, basket bingos, hosting competitions and getting local businesses to sponsor T-shirts, the girls become a tight group. “We came closer together and bonded working towards a common goal,” said Amy Reffi of Hardyston. “We’ve become closer like a family,” said Allie Rogoff of Franklin. Practice, practice, practice The girls take one and a half hour team gymnastic lessons at Titan gymnastics in Newton once a week. And they feel all the hard work will pay off. They’ve got a positive attitude, as Ashley Hendricks expressed. “We’re really excited for Nationals in Florida, we’re confident we have the ability to get first place.” The team has competed in five local competitions to prepare for Nationals. “We push ourselves every day,” said Dina Schulman, the team’s co-captain. The squad practices almost all year long. Beginning in the summer, the squad attends UCA elite summer camp held at Rutgers University. Their winning ways began this past year, when the squad earned the title of Camp Champs. “I think we’ve improved and worked really hard especially in the last month,” said Mandee Monico, team co-captain, of Franklin. “We want to win first place at Nationals.” The girls get ideas to execute stunts through watching videos from competitions and attending camp. “We’ve determined to do whatever it takes,” said Caitlin Sweeney of Hamburg. Coach Tussey Coach Janet Tussey has two National Championship titles under her belt in her 15 years of coaching. The first time she traveled down to Florida with her squad was in 1999. Two years later, her squad won the open dance title at Canam in South Carolina and in 2005 her squad earned the National Champion title in the cheer/dance division in Florida. “We’ve had a lot of girls get sick, but luckily no injuries,” Tussey said. “It takes dedication; cheerleading is not like regular sports where you can just take anyone off the bench, they have to be the right height.” The girls have other responsibilities besides practicing for competitions. They attend every football game in the fall and cheer at every home basketball game in the winter. “The practice schedule varies every day so the girls must be flexible, practicing before games,” Tussey said. Assistant coach Mary Rose Silvestri underscored how, while they are not a regular athletic squad, they get their share of support. “Our athletic director has made sure we’ve had practice time. He doesn’t forget about the cheerleaders,” Silvestri said.