The Scotia-Glenville cheerleading squad spent the last two winters rooting on state championship basketball teams. On Saturday the Tartans will get an opportunity to claim a state title of their own.
“We’re used to people watching us on the sideline, cheering other sports,” Scotia-Glenville senior Natalie Straut said. “Now we get to perform and show our athletic ability.”
Scotia-Glenville and four other Section II teams will be competing in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s first cheerleading championships at the Onondaga Community College Events Center. The meet will begin at 9 in the morning, with teams performing two-and-a-half minute routines in the preliminary round.
“Our goal is to make the finals, which would be top five,” Stephanie St. Pierre, one of Scotia-Glenville’s trio of coaches, said during a break from Thursday’s practice. “Our division has the most teams with 18. Anything else is gravy.”
Scotia-Glenville has placed first in each of the seven meets it has competed in this winter. In local events, the Tartans are unbeaten over the last three seasons.
“We’re used to doing a lot of local competitions,” Scotia-Glenville coach T.T. Taylor said. “This is a totally different feel. It’s that tournament feel.”
The NYSPHSAA recognized competitive cheerleading as an official sport in the 2014-15 school year, and three regional events were held last winter, including one at Guilderland that featured 78 teams.
Guilderland, Saratoga Springs, Mohonasen and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will be joining Scotia-Glenville Saturday to compete on the first-of-its-kind stage.
“It’s been such a journey,” Patty Palmer, Guilderland’s coach and the Section II cheerleading coordinator, said Thursday as her squad of 18 girls and two boys stretched out before going over their routine. “I’ve been coaching for 34 years, and where it’s progressed from is really something. I’ve watched the whole evolution. I remember practicing in the cafeteria.”
Those days are long gone. Aside from the state meet, for the first time cheerleaders were eligible this winter for NYSPHSAA Scholar-Athlete Team awards.
“It’s cheerleading getting on the map,” St. Pierre said. “We were not recognized as athletes. Now we have that.”
The five local contingents earned their state meet berths by winning their divisions two weeks ago at the first Section II championships. They’ll be among 57 teams from across the state that have qualified.
“We have one of the most successful programs next to Guilderland, but that Monday morning in school after we won sectionals, it was different. We were recognized,” St. Pierre said. “It was, ‘You won sectionals. What happens now?’”
“It’s kind of neat,” senior Caroline Cater, one of Scotia-Glenville’s 12 team members, said. “People are cheering for us.”
Scotia-Glenville will vie for Division 2 Small School honors, and Mohonasen will see action in the Division 2 Large School segment of the meet. Saratoga Springs will be in the Division 1 Large School category and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will participate in the Division 1 Small School mix. Guilderland will compete in the Co-Ed Division, which features boys and girls in groups ranging in number from five to 32.
Division 1 is for schools with 750 students or more, and Division 2 is for schools with 749 students and below. Large teams have 17 to 32 participants, and Small teams have five to 16 participants.
“The first competition of the season they get nervous, but after eight of them, it’s more excitement,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Tina Crocetto said. “My girls are excited to be part of the first one.”
Like Scotia-Glenville, Guilderland has placed first a lot this season, with seven titles at eight meets.
“Kids we know from other schools are saying you’ve got to go out there and win,” said Guilderland senior Marquis Chisom, who in the fall was The Daily Gazette’s co-Defensive Player of the Year in football. “That would be nice, but we at least want to beat what we did at the regionals [last year]. Just as important is how we represent Guilderland. We’ll try to make the best of our time out there.”
“I think we’ll do well,” said Guilderland senior Teddi Palmer, the coach’s daughter. “We always believe we can improve.”
Guilderland placed fourth at the regional competiton last winter.
“I tell the kids it’s not about the hardware. It’s not about medals and trophies,” Patty Palmer said. “It’s about the feeling you have inside. If you feel great, you won. You can’t control what other teams do. Go out and do your best, and of another team beats you, so be it.”
Teams will be evaluated by four judges in such categories as stunts and tumbles, showmanship, leadership and crowd appeal. Teams can score as many as 130 points.
“All of us want the same thing,” Scotia-Glenville senior Stephanie Santilli said of the five area teams. “We all want to see each other do well. We’ll all be supporting each other.”
Patty Palmer said getting all five teams to the finals would be a major boost for Section II.
“Two minutes and thirty seconds, and you only get one chance,” she said. “There’s not a couple of quarters. There’s not a couple of periods. It’s do-or-die with no retakes.”