TRENTON, NJ - The Arthur L. Johnson High School varsity competition cheerleaders invest their time and energy rallying the crowds and encouraging fellow Crusaders to win throughout the various sporting seasons.

This  past weekend they motivated themselves to victory as they defeated a long list of Group 2 schools before capturing their second straight New Jersey Cheerleading and Dance Coaches Association (NJCDCA) Group 2 State Championship against Delaware Valley HS Sunday afternoon at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton

“This journey has not been an easy one,” Athena Petronella said. “Our team has faced may obstacles throughout the season, but we never lost faith in each other. In the end, we knew exactly what we had to in order to perfect our routine and ultimately, we had an outstanding performance at states.”

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The girls began learning their routine in the month of October and then repeatedly perform it throughout the entire season.

“A successful cheerleading team takes teamwork,” Johnson cheerleading head coach Lindsey Barrett said. “Our entire senior class has played an important role in leading the Johnson Varsity Competition team to claiming this NJ Group 2 State Championship.  They were all part of the state championship winning team last year and knew exactly what it took to be able to re-claim the title for the second year in a row.”

The cheerleaders worked on practicing many different parts of the routine, including the cheers, the jumps, standing tumbling, basket tosses, one-leg sequences, running tumbling, pyramids and dancing throughout the year. Barrett and Assistant Coaches Cristina Faro and Suzanne Hamilton guide the team members through the paces but count on the girls to help each other progress too.  

“I helped and led the team to make smart decisions and learn how to act as one instead of 20 separate cheerleaders,” Marissa Petronella said. “I made sure cheer practice was a fun environment. I was proud of each of them because each team member brought something special to the team, which helped us achieve our goals and win states.”

At the competition, the team went up against numerous large varsity teams in the state of New Jersey, such as Jackson, Hunterdon Central, Lacey, Mount Olive and Brearley (Kenilworth).

 “We’ve been working hard on our competition routine since the beginning of the season,” Emily DeLima said. “Even though we’ve had a ton of obstacles, we came out on top and that just goes to show that hard work pays off.”

The competition season for the girls began in November, where the teams compete at NJCDCA certified competitions. Teams who win first place in the competitions earn points from each first-place win. The top two teams compete for the title.

Johnson qualified on February 18 and in the end, everything narrowed down to their face off with Delaware Valley HS.

“I am really proud of my team for winning the state championship twice,” Petronella said. “Like Emily said, ‘Hard work pays off.’ Throughout our high school careers, we have all been working towards winning this title and I’m glad all our hard work and dedication was recognized last year and this year.”

The team is composed of 21 cheerleaders, including ten seniors: Emily DeLima, Chloe Hessler, Shannon Lavan, Kelsey Marques, Adriana Palmucci, Athena Petronella, Marissa Petronella, Amanda Pratt, Samantha Tavares and Gina Telesco.

Juniors on the team include Nina DiProfio, Juliana Rizzuto and Victoria Torres.

Sophomores on the team are Kaitlyn Greenhill, Maeve Gregorio, Caileigh O’Donnell, Emily Pereira, Daniela Thompson and Tara Marie Viafora.   Marissa Chicairelli and Giuliana Fischetti are the two freshman on the team.

Head coach Lindsey Barrett praised her senior cheerleaders for all the hard work they did in the program.

“Since they were freshmen, this senior class had the talent, desire, and work ethic to leave their mark on Johnson cheerleading history,” Barrett said. “This season especially, they showed their teammates how to work hard for a goal, stay positive, and never give up.  Before taking the competition mat, the team huddled up in a circle and Samantha Tavares said, ‘Don’t do it for yourself, do it for the person standing next to you.’ And that’s exactly what the 20 competitors did.”

“This senior class made up about half of our competition team so they will be truly missed next year, but their legacy will surely live on,” she added.

With high school careers coming to an end, the seniors praised the underclassmen, optimistic that the trail of success will be repeated when they take the leadership roles in the years to come.

“I see a lot of potential for good leaders in the grades below me,” DeLima said. “I expect great things to come in the next couple of years. I hope they do well and I’ll be there watching them [after I’ve] graduated.”

Saying goodbye to a team after four years is hard, one member  described her feelings about being part of the squad.

 “One thing I’ll remember about Johnson cheerleading is the friendships I made on the team,” Lavan said. “Even though I’ve been cheerleading with some of these girls since I was younger, I feel like we all got closer these past four years since we spent almost every day together from July to March.”

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