The American Youth Cheer national championships have become a familiar destination over the past four years for the Southington Knights Travel Football and Cheer Program. The only thing missing from the first three trips was a championship finish.
The Knights checked that first place finish off their list in early December when they took the top spot in “Division 14 Large White” at the national championship competition, which was held at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla. The national championship is the first one ever for the cheer program, and the road to the championship wasn’t a short one by any stretch.
“It took practice, practice and more practice for this team to come home with the national championship,” said Liz McQuatters, cheer director for the Southington Knights. “We begin practicing at the end of the July for the season and our first competition was in October.”
The Knights encountered some adversity with injuries during their season, but they persevered.
“They were very adaptable and flexible and made changes when necessary, which is difficult, but they did it with such grace and never a complaint,” McQuatters said.
The postseason run began at the state level in New Haven on Nov. 3, where the Knights finished second. Two weeks later, the Knights competed at the New England regional event in Manchester, N.H., and claimed first place.
Southington’s cheerleaders and football players arrived in Florida on either Dec. 5 or 6 and stayed until Dec. 10. Besides the cheer competition, there were activities galore for the kids throughout the week. On Dec. 6, the team took a group photo, got ‘swag bags’ of goodies, and then attended a private event at Universal Studios.
“The park was only open to American Youth Football and Cheer football players, cheerleaders, coaches and families,” McQuatters said.
After a team bonding breakfast on the morning of Dec. 7, the cheer team practiced in front of judges. The competition began on Dec. 8 with qualifying. The top five teams in each division move on to compete for the championship on Dec. 9, or “Super Sunday.”
“The team was judged on a two and a half minute routine,” McQuatters said.
The Knights were made up of 25 girls, ranging in experience. Seven of the girls were brand new to the competition team while 14 were graduating the program and moving on to high school, McQuatters said.
“We are just so proud of all their hard work,” McQuatters said. “They truly earned the title of national champions and their blue championship jackets.”
The Knight cheerleaders are: Katy Langland, Maggie Blanchard, Rachel Gregory, Maddie Chesanow, Sammy Cannuli, Kayla Grullon-DiBenedetto, Mara DeLuco, Natalie Perry, Ava Joiner, Jessica Wright, Sydney Valarose, Tori Harrington, Rylee Indomenico, Emily Fay, Avery More, Kayla Gollnick, Courtney Gourneault, Amber Paprzyca, Josie Campbell, Mia Nieto, Avery McQuatters, Trinity Stewart, Isabella Holton, Laila DiBattista and Kayla Beach.
The coaches are: Vicki Langland, Tanya Bioski, Melissa Formeister and Liz McQuatters. McQuatters is cheer director and is assisted by Angela White.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.