The 2020-21 school year was out of the ordinary, to say the least, but Emmalynn DonVito’s experience sits in a world of its own.
The 17-year-old Rotterdam resident completed her studies at Mohonasen High School — a good five months early, in fact — and did so virtually, as did so many during a school year completed under restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But DonVito didn’t spend her senior year sitting at home.
Far from it.
While DonVito was still enrolled as a student at Mohonasen, she spent her senior year more than a five-hour drive from home, living with a host family as she trained and competed with the elite Maryland Twisters F5 cheerleading team.
“It was really crazy. It was so fun, though,” DonVito said. “I got to do so many things I would never even think would be possible for me. It was a really great experience.”
Joining the Twisters F5 team was a long-held dream for DonVito, as is her next step — enrolling at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas to be part of the Bulldogs’ cheer team, winner of 14 junior college national championships and five “Grand National” titles since 2000, and the subject of the Emmy-winning Netflix docuseries “Cheer.”
The whirlwind year with the Twisters started, DonVito said, by taking a shot at submitting a tryout video put together while she had extra time on her hands after her junior cheerleading season was cut short by the beginning of New York’s stay-at-home order as the pandemic gripped the state.
“I got an email back almost right away that they’d love to have me on the team,” DonVito said. “I had a friend down there, so we started to arrange some trips down there to get into the gym, and then I ended up making F5, which is my dream team.”
For DonVito, competing on her dream team meant spending her senior year away from family and friends, apart from a few brief trips back home around holidays or when her practice schedule with the Twisters lightened up.
It also meant adjusting to pandemic-related restrictions for practice and competition and, in December, contracting COVID-19 herself and dealing with the difficult aftermath of her bout with the virus.
“Oh my gosh, it was so hard for me,” DonVito said. “Especially getting back into the gym and trying to regain my strength back, it was hard.”
Even with the difficulties of the year, DonVito’s unique approach to her senior year allowed her to complete classwork in January, leaving the remainder of the school year dedicated to her cheer work.
That included not just her competition and training schedule with Maryland Twisters F5, but going after her dream of earning a spot on Navarro’s squad.
She was originally supposed to visit the school in March for a tryout when in Texas for a cheer competition, but that event was canceled due to pandemic restrictions. Instead, just as she did to earn her spot with the Twisters, DonVito submitted a video to the Navarro coaching staff.
A short time later, just before heading to a practice, DonVito was texting with Navarro coach Monica Aldama, who offered her a slot on the team.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is not happening,’” DonVito said. “It was amazing.”
Immediately, DonVito got on FaceTime with her mother, Kimberly, to give her the good news.
“My mom always told me, ‘You can be on this team. You’re so amazing. You’ve got to just try out,’” Emmalynn DonVito said. “This whole time, I was like, ‘Mom, there’s no shot. There’s no way I’ll ever be on this team. Sure, I’ll try out, but that’s a second option to me. There’s no way that’ll be real.’
“I still can’t believe it’s real.”
In mid-July, she’ll head down to Texas to finally meet and train with her new teammates for the first time. It’s yet again a brand-new world for the Mohonasen graduate, who will be cheering on a coed team for the first time while competing at a level far more intense and demanding than the All Star level she’s accustomed to.
She’s ready for the challenge.
“That has been my dream team for so long,” she said. “I still can’t believe that I’m on the team. I’m excited, and I’m nervous. It’s the best of the best. I don’t really know what to expect.”