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By Steve Bigham



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By Steve Bigham

The Newtown High School cheerleading squad is adding a bit of muscle to its roster this winter with the addition of three male members.

All three of these guys are football players and were looking forward to taking a breather after a busy fall. But their R&R was short-lived after being summoned by cheerleading captains Carela Catigano and Courtney MacRae. The two seniors were looking for some big arms and shoulders to enhance their routines and stunts, and Drew Narcum, Matt Saunders and Ben Champagne more than fit the description.

“We’ve been talking about doing this for a few years now and now we’re finally doing it,” noted Catigano, as two of her new recruits sent her airborne.

Last month, the cheerleaders put up posters on the school walls seeking male students who were not only willing to put in the time, but also to put up with the occasional ribbing - from both their teammates and fellow classmates. That was not a problem for these three hulksters, especially Saunders.

“You have to be secure in yourself,” said the junior who was outstanding this year at the linebacker position.

Champagne, a fellow junior, was a lineman on the football team, and has worked with the cheerleaders in the past. Narcum, a sophomore, is an up-and-comer who promises to play a big role on the gridiron over the next two years. For now, he’ll keep in shape lifting cheerleaders.

According to MacRae, having a co-ed squad will make Newtown eligible to compete in new categories at competitions. And there should be plenty of them this winter, including, for the first time, a South-West Conference tournament in January.

Catigano said having a few strong men around also provides a new element of safety. But Saunders thinks he knows the real asset he and his two mates bring to the floor.

“Our looks,” he said with a smile.

Second year Coach Tanya Sokolowski called the plan to go co-ed great for school spirit.

“This is something that I’ve been interested in ever since I began coaching. The girls didn’t think there would be a big turnout, but as soon as one guy showed interest, then more became interested,” said Sokolowski who will co-coach this winter with Darien MacRae.

Sokolowski, a first grade teacher at Middle Gate School, was a cheerleader while a student at Pomperaug High in the early 90’s. She also lived in Newtown and learned the art of cheerleading while a student at, of all places, Middle Gate School. But cheerleading has changed a great deal since Sokolowski’s high school days. And the biggest change may be the addition of three muscle-bound boys. She credited Saunders, Champagne and Narcum for coming out.

“It takes somebody that has very strong character. They also need to be strong themselves, physically. It says a lot for the person,” Sokolowski said.

The NHS cheerleading squad will be cheering at both boys’ and girls’ home basketball games this winter.

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