Cheerleaders Overcame Obstacles, Put Skills On Display To Become Team Of The Year
What a memorable season it has been for the Newtown High School cheerleading squad, which overcame roster and mat position changes as well as overall youth and varsity inexperience to emerge as the best in Connecticut. The Nighthawks won the Team of the Year Competition, a State Open event featuring all of the top teams in Connecticut, held in North Haven on March 11.
“So proud of this team. They trusted us — week after week — made adjustments, and never gave up,” said Head Coach Susan Bridges, who worked with assistant coaches Ellie Mouchantat and Caitlin Delohery to maximize the potential of a group of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
The top six teams from each of the four state class size divisions, as well as co-ed, came together for the Team of the Year event and Newtown scored 92 points to overcome Danbury (89.80), which edged Newtown for first in the Class LL State Championships. North Haven, Greenwich, and Oxford rounded out the top five.
Members of the Nighthawks are juniors: Hannah Busillo, Hannah Guman, Rachel Szor, Chase Sferruzzo, and Emily Hechler; sophomores: Ella Macey and Cydney Turoczi; and freshmen: Melanie Lordeiro, Abi Gonzalez, Olivia Decatur, Isabella Walder, and Leticia DeOliveira.
The girls work on stunts and getting in sync, as well as in shape, for nicely-choreographed yet grueling three-minute routines throughout the summer offseason and fall before participating in competitions during the winter months. The fall got a bit tricky with some roster changes that resulted in juniors taking on leadership responsibilities and several of the girls shifting positions on the mats.
With no seniors in the fold, coaches opted to not name captains and instead gave various tasks to the juniors to help guide the team.
“The natural leaders emerge,” said Bridges, adding that this team has had plenty stacked against it. Two years ago, the now juniors who are on the team had no season competitions due to the impact of the coronavirus canceling sporting events and last year the then freshmen and sophomores had an altered season in which they had to practice while wearing masks.
“These kids have really had a little bit of a difficult time,” Bridges said.
This year was pretty standard in terms of competitions and non-mask wearing but the Nighthawks had an overall inexperienced squad which got its moves and stunts down over the course of several months of football and basketball sideline cheering, halftime shows, and through eight winter competitions. There are full-ups, full-a-rounds, inversions, and tumbles, and more — and it all has to come together with precision timing.
“It’s been really fun. There have been a lot of ups and downs. We always push through it; we always come out better than we were before,” said Szor, a varsity cheerleader for three years who previously did six years of youth cheerleading.
Busillo, who has cheered for 11 years, including eight as an All Star and three on varsity, said the team members came together and became closer than ever as the season unfolded.
“We just got right back on track,” Busillo said.
Even before capturing the Cheer Team of the Year title, this group of Nighthawks had plenty for which to be proud given the circumstances and a close runner-up finish in the Class LL Championships.
“It’s the best we’ve ever done. It feels good to have this success,” said Guman, a three-year varsity cheerleader who brought seven seasons of youth cheer to the high school mats.
“It’s beyond impressive. We are so proud of these girls,” Bridges said. “They had to work so hard to get where they did.”
Then came the State Open event and the Hawks raised the bar.
Hechler is a first-year cheerleader. She has a background in ice skating and decided to give cheer a try. “Everyone’s been really supportive and helped me,” she said.
Cheerleading is very much about providing support. There are base positions necessary to toss and catch flyers during performances.
Sferruzzo, a two-year varsity cheerleader who has been cheering for three years, was impacted by the roster shuffle and went from being a side base to a main base. “It was fun to learn how to do that and get good at it,” Sferruzzo said.
Bridges referred to the squad as being “very unselfish” despite to the necessary adjustments to the roster, including the way in which team members accepted coach decisions for the competition squad.
Throughout the year the Hawks also put their selfless ways out there with volunteer work at various town events in addition to making appearances at birthday parties, for example, Bridges said.
“They’re really dedicated,” Mouchantat said. “They make it fun to come to practice. I look forward to it and working with them because they’re such fun kids and hard workers.”
The fun and hard work isn’t done just yet. These Nighthawks have qualified for the New England Spirit Championships, Saturday, March 18, at Worcester State University in Worcester, Mass. The top three teams from each Connecticut division will get together with the best from all over New England for regional bragging rights.
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.