(Byfield) If you want to avoid crowds, just show up at a high school thirty minutes after the dismissal bell on the Friday afternoon that leads into February vacation.
That is what I did at Triton on the afternoon of (Friday) February 13th. While nearly everyone else in the school had headed for the exits, the Triton High School cheerleaders were involved in an afternoon practice.
“Even though basketball has ended we’ll continue to practice because we have two competitions left,” explained Coach Erin Dempsey. The next competition for the Viking squad will be the Braintree Winter Cheerleading Invitational on February 21st.
Triton captured a solid second place finish to Wilmington in the Cape Ann League competition (February 7th at Triton) and received a high enough score to move on to the regionals.
“In the CAL competition, each team performs a 2 ½ minute routine,” said Coach Dempsey. “We’re scored on specific areas like; gymnastics, pyramids, partner stunts, motions, and dance. We incorporate all of those things into the routine. I thought that our strong points at the CAL’s were tumbling and pyramids.”
The team performs before four judges who each can give up to 25 points for the team’s performance. A team has to total at least 67 points to move on to the regionals and Triton has accomplished that in each of the last six seasons.
Triton has not won the Cape Ann League title yet, but optimism abounds. “We’re getting better and closer to the top and have just one senior,” added Coach Dempsey. “We have a good crop of 8th grade cheerleaders coming in with 8-10 of them trying out for the football squad in June.”
Coach Dempsey referred to “good team chemistry” and tri-captain Becca Moore confirmed it – “The girls on the team become your family and you form bonds that are unbreakable.”
Another of the tri-captains (Lindsey Goldstein) told me something I already assumed, “There are injuries (in cheering) and it can be dangerous.”
Only those attending cheerleading competitions see the girls’ full repertoire. “The rubberized track at the football games and the hardwood floors at basketball games are unsafe places for us to do some of the things we do in cheerleading competitions,” explained Coach Dempsey.
In the CAL, cheerleaders are limited to doing a routine at halftime and tumbling during timeouts. The rest of the time, they sit in the bleachers. Football is a better arrangement, according to Coach Dempsey, “In football the crowd is in front of us and we can interact with them. In basketball we’re secluded and limited as to what we can do.”
Cheerleading is a varsity sport at Triton and just like other varsity sports, there are plenty of opportunities to continue in the sport (like travel teams) away from the high school setting. “In the spring, a lot of girls switch over to All-Stars where organizations have their own gyms and travel to competitions throughout the country,” said Coach Dempsey. “I coach an All-Star team in Danvers and we travel nationally.”
In the summer, the Triton cheerleading squad attends a 3-day camp at URI. “We’ve done it for two years,” recalled Coach Dempsey. “There in a relaxed atmosphere we get to work on team-building, tumbling, and stunts.”
Although cheering is demanding in many ways, it is still worth it, according to Viking tri-captain Makayla Fernandez. “I have been cheering since I was seven,” she said. “I’ve gotten plenty of good exercise and had a lot of fun.”
( This story appeared in The Town Common on February 24, 2010. )