By Lisa Capobianco
Coach Chris Gilbert of Plainville threw her hands up in the air shouting for joy when her All-Star Junior Level 2 (J2) Team won first place during the Athletic Championship in Rhode Island.
As the owner of Central Valley Panthers (CVP) Gym, Gilbert said she could not have felt more proud of the 12 girls (age 14 and under) who competed in one of the biggest championships in the Northeast.
“I was just happy for the kids, parents and coaches,” said Gilbert, adding that the 2013-2014 cheerleading season took a rough patch with the loss of a large amount of members. “They worked so hard, and this was a huge accomplishment for our program.”
On the first day of the competition, which took place Jan. 25, Gilbert said the team felt nervous but excited. Initially the team came in fourth place due to a 2.5 deduction resulting from both a fall and a major fall. The gym’s S2 Fury Team also competed in the championship, coming in second place without deductions on that first day. Despite these setbacks, Gilbert said she knew the J2 team had a good chance of winning due to the Raw score, which was the highest. Without the deductions, J2 would have won first place.
“Our teams have done well every year at this competition, beating some of our major rivals from this area,” said Gilbert, adding that Central Valley Panthers has participated in the Athletic Championship since 2003.
But any jitters the girls exhibited wore off on the second day of the competition, when the J2 team won first place. Gilbert said she had faith that one or both teams competing from her gym would win after reading a positive message from a past parent of a CVP cheerleader. The message read, “Good luck today—you should be very proud of the teams you’ve assembled.”
“It all came together on day two,” said Coach Rachel Buchanan of Central Valley Panthers. “They were ready—they knew what to expect and they were super confident.”
“They had a lot of heart and determination,” added Coach Alicia Petit-Irizarry of Central Valley Panthers.
During the competition, teams were broken up into large teams (21 to 32 cheerleaders) and small teams (20 and less) as well as large gyms and small gyms. Gyms that have less than 75 (full-year) members can compete in the Small Gym Division. Central Valley Panthers competed in the Small Gym Division, which consisted of eight teams. The scoring guidelines for the team’s division go up to a seven or a 10 in certain categories. Since the Junior Team, Rage, is Level 2, there are certain stunts they can perform. Each stunt is choreographed and based on what the team can perform at Level 2. Like the other teams at Central Valley Panthers, the J2 team practices routines several times a week.
“They work really hard—they’re competitive athletes,” Buchanan said. “I’m proud all that hard work paid off.”
As first place winners, the J2 team came home sporting new jackets they received as prizes, along with a large banner and plaque, which will both hang in the gym. The coaches and the cheerleaders themselves felt proud of the accomplishment, especially since they competed against bigger gyms.
“It was a really big surprise we won,” said All-Star Cheerleader Kahli Travers of the J2 team.
“The competition is really big, and we were one of the smaller gyms,” added Kahli’s sister Amanda Travers, who is also an All-Star Cheerleader on the J2 team.