SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The South Plainfield High School Fall Cheerleaders have been hard at work preparing to compete in the Greater Middlesex County (GMC) Competition tomorrow, Oct. 27, at Woodbridge High School, located at 25 Samuel Lupo Place in Woodbridge, NJ. Doors open for spectator admission at 10a.m. and the competition begins at 11a.m. Tickets can be purchased on location and are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and admission is free for children under five years old.
“This year’s Varsity and Junior Varsity teams are amazing young ladies,” said Georgeann Larsen, HeadCheer Coach. “The dedication and love for the sport that they show every practice and game is beyond words. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. They show how much fun it is to be a cheerleader.”
Skilled athletes charged with bolstering team spirit for the S.P.H.S. football team, the cheerleaders have been practicing for months.
“When most people see cheerleading they don’t understand how much goes into it,” said Senior Danielle McParland, Varsity Cheerleader Co-Captain. “It’s a lot of hardwork. We had a lot of sidelines, cheers and dances to learn and it took the whole summer to be ready for the game in September. All the little things matter.”
Tomorrow, the S.P.H.S. cheerleaders will head to the GMC Competition, which is divided into two divisions, Game Day and Performance.
“We’re performing in the Game Day Competition half, which is about crowd appeal and engagement as opposed to dance and hitting stunts,” said Andrea Garcia, Assistant Cheer Coach and S.P.H.S. English Teacher. “It’s a lot more about being enthusiastic, using signs, megaphones and your mascot in ways that appeal to the audience. So it’s about so much more than hitting the stunts perfectly and keeping your smiles on. You have to do all that and engage the crowd.”
The S.P.H.S. Cheerleaders will be judged on a rigorous set of criteria as they go up against area high school teams.
“We’re competing in a division with ten teams, so the judges pick the top three,” said Larsen. “The team to win first place will be GMC Champs, then runner-up and then third.”
“I know they’re going to do great,” said Garcia. “I expect it. Their success does not surprise me because I know what they are capable of. These girls are definitely capable of performing as well as they do and of all the great things that they achieve.”
Tryouts for the Fall cheerleading team took place at the end of last school year and practice began in July.
“Months of learning a new routine, practicing that routine on repeat and implementing suggestions from team members for the betterment of the Team has created a respectful level of teamwork,” said Liz Rullis, Volunteer Cheer Coach. “This Sunday they get to display their hard work, leave their hearts on the mat and have fun.”
“In the years prior, we definitely worked really hard, but it hasn’t really paid off the way that we had hoped it would,” said Senior Brielle Stankan, Varsity Cheerleader Co-Captain. “So this weekend, we’re really excited to go out for our last time and hopefully get the results we’re looking for.”
Performing with the cheerleaders in competition is the tiger mascot, Senior Robert Cesareo.
“This team is a great group of people,” said Cesareo. “They’re always inviting, they’re always welcoming, they’re always fun to be around. I think being the only guy in a group of girls is always interesting, but they make you feel at home.”
“Rob, the mascot, went from not being involved in anything regarding football or cheer, to now truly embracing it and has stepped into mascot shoes literally and figuratively,” said Garcia. He really has been engaging the crowd and trying to get them to cheer on the team. Having him as part of the cheerleading squad really adds to the team and to the fun of it.”
For seniors, this is their last time cheering together in competition and emotions are mixed.
“I’ve done cheerleading for my entire life,” said Senior Zoe Lambert, Varsity Cheerleader Co-Captain. “Knowing that my last year is almost over is completely heartbreaking. No matter where I go, or what I do in life, I will never forget all the valuable lessons that cheer has taught me.”
“It’s really important that we do well because it is our last competition,” said Stankan. “We’ve been cheering together since we were little. It’s really sad because after this we’re all going to be in different places and it’s the end of an era.”
“I think it’s definitely pretty sad for me because I’ve been with these girls doing Pop Warner since we were in first grade,” said McParland. “Now it’s my last official performance with them ever. It’s pretty sad, but it’s also exciting because I think our team is really good this year, and we’ve been working really hard since the summer.”
As parents of seniors waited outside one of the last practices of the Fall season this week, they reminisced about the past years. Many of their daughters grew up together cheering in Pop Warner Cheerleading.
“We’re so proud of the team’s accomplishments,” said the cheer captain mothers Georgia Lambert, Joanne Praul, and Christine Stankan. “We can’t wait to see them hit the mat for the last time at the GMC. It’s bitter-sweet.”
“The girls work extremely hard to learn 90 plus side line cheers, in addition to this big routine that they have to learn for the GMCs, so they all put a lot of work into cheerleading,” added Lambert. “They have been together since they were five years old. And now they’re seventeen and eighteen. A couple of tears might be shed on Sunday!”
Coaches say the seniors have taken the younger students under their wings and foster a feeling of respect and encouragement.
“This year’s senior class are an amazing group young women,” said Garcia. “They are respected by their teammates and are true leaders. They know how to work as a team and it shows.”
“The people are really amazing and have helped me come a long way,” said Freshman Maria Callanan, Varsity Cheerleader. “The first day I came to try-outs, I was really nervous because I had a lot of things going through my mind. I was worried that I might be judged and I felt like I wasn’t going to do a good job. They really showed me that they are very nice people and that they’re here for us and I really love that.”
Parents and cheerleaders say the S.P.H.S. coaching staff has put their hearts into the helping the students succeed. Coach Larsen and Assistant Coach Garcia, have brought the students to new levels, honing their skills and encouraging teamwork as they push the students to take pride in their performances.
“Coach Larsen is my daughter, and years ago, she wanted to start a competition cheer team here so that the girls would get scholarships for cheering,” said Georgeanne Cochrane, Head of the Cheer Parents’ Association. “She started the program and the second year of her program, they took national championship at Disney. The cheerleaders have been competing ever since and the team loves it.”
Volunteer coaches Kim Baskiewicz and Rullis have children on the team, giving of their time and years of experience.
“As a coach, you can only hope that each and every team member walks off that competition mat after their performance feeling they gave it their all and proud of themselves and their teammates,” said Rullis. “I am confident that this Team will do just that, I am proud of them for their hard work, commitment and overcoming any challenges they faced such as injuries along the way and I’m excited to watch them perform this weekend.
The Fall cheerleading season has been a whirlwind of practice and football games.
“This has been very exciting for me as a parent,” said Bernadette O’Flaherty, parent. “Being at the games and watching the girls having fun at the games has been amazing. Just to see them as a team with their excitement and watching them have fun cheering for the boys is incredible. I’m excited for them on Sunday. I can’t wait to see them perform!”
“I love coming back to the games and I can honestly say being a cheerleader was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Shayla Brown, S.P.H.S. Alumni and member of the South Plainfield Rescue Squad. “Cheerleading was definitely one of my favorite high school memories. It taught me a lot of life lessons. It taught me about teamwork, dedication and learning to work together and overcome obstacles.”
The Junior Varsity team will be attending tomorrow's competition to support and cheer on their South Plainfield cheer family.
“I’m very excited to see the girls perform,” said Freshman Madelynn Pfeiffer, Junior Varsity Cheerleader. “Cheer has been so much fun because the team has become my best friends over the past two months. I’ll be watching them on Sunday and I’m excited to support them at the GMCs.”
“I’ve done dance, but it’s interesting cheerleading,” said Sophomore Destiny Love, Junior Varsity. “It’s great knowing that we have a family. The seniors definitely are like our parents. They’ll help you along the way. Our coaches are like our moms, and they’re always there for us. And the rest of the team are like sisters.”
Everything comes down to tomorrow’s performance. The group of hard-working cheerleaders, devoted to their sport and teammates will bring their best to the competition and have fun along the way.
“I feel really good about Sunday,” said Callanan. “I feel like we’ve been doing really well at practice and it’s going to show!”
“We’re going to go into the GMC Competition hot, and we’re going to do the best that we can,” said Cesareo. “I think we’re going to do really well. This is a new routine, and we’re doing a lot of things that we’ve never really tried before. I feel that we’re going to go far and I hope that we do because these girls truly do deserve it!”
“There is a quote with a picture I’ve seen,” said Larsen. “It shows a little girl standing at the fence watching the cheerleaders and it states, ‘Perform for them as if you were one of those little girls standing at the fence not so long ago.’ And this team does just that. I love my girls. Each one of them brings something unique to the team.”