MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – Each weeknight during the winter months, the Westlake High School cheerleading team meets to practice in the school’s cafeteria. The late practices that run until around 9 p.m. in a less than ideal venue are all for one goal.
“Last year we went to nationals and placed second in our division, and this year a big goal for us is to go there and win it,” said senior co-captain Gianna DiTomasso.
Last Saturday, the team placed first at the Empire Regional Competition held at Hofstra University. The victory punched the team's ticket to the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships in Orlando. Last year, the team placed second in the nation in the Small Varsity Non Tumbling Division at the competition.
Despite its success, third year head coach Lauren McNamara is still impressed with how well the team performs.
“Every time they step on the mats I’m shocked with how well they do,” McNamara said. “We have great senior leadership also, which helps in constantly getting things done."
The national competition, held in February, concludes a grueling season that begins in June. In the fall, the team practices right after school. The cheerleaders are on the sideline for varsity football games and participate in various local competitions. In the winter months, basketball practices and games in the gymnasium force the team to practice during the evening in the school’s cafeteria as it prepares for the regional and national competitions.
Senior co-captain Camille Dottore said the extensive amount of time the team spends together has brought them closer.
“We’ve become more like a family,” Dottore said. “We’re more than just a really good team together.”
Dottore and DiTomasso are two of seven seniors on the 17 girl squad. There are also seven freshmen on the team. DiTomasso said it’s important for the seniors to not only leave a legacy for the freshman to build on, but to also show them that cheerleading is far more than rooting on the sidelines for fellow Westlake teams.
“For the freshman the competitions are a new experience for them, so we need to let them know that it’s kind of a big deal,” DiTomasso said.
Besides the glory of a first place finish to end the year, McNamara said there’s one other specific item on the girls’ radar.
“If we place first at nationals, each girl receives a white jacket as sort of a trophy so they're constantly raving about the chance to win them and show them off around school,” McNamara said.