Sports

Saint Paul finishes sixth at world cheerleading championships

By Bernd Franke, Postmedia News

The Saint Paul Catholic High School cheerleading team from Niagara Falls in Orlando, Fla., competing at a world championship. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Saint Paul Catholic High School cheerleading team from Niagara Falls in Orlando, Fla., competing at a world championship. SUBMITTED PHOTO

What do months of fundraising and weeks of practising, on some days as long as three hours, come down to?

 

For the cheerleading team at Saint Paul Catholic High School, exactly two minutes and 30 seconds.

That’s how long a Patriots squad had to nail a tightly choreographed routine, while building human pyramids, at the World School Cheerleading Championships in central Florida.

While head coach Jennifer Benoit and the 14-member team from the Niagara Falls school had two opportunities to perform before a panel of judges, only the second appearance on the last day of the two-day competition held at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando would count in the final standings.

Benoit likened the first performance to a full dress rehearsal, the final show before a Broadway opening, but with sharp-eyed critics in the audience always on the lookout for a misstep or someone a second out of sync. Offering the critques of Day 1 were experts, many of whom have forgotten more about the sport than most people will ever learn over a lifetime.

“You definitely want to have comments to help you prepare for the finals,” Benoit said.

At competitions Saint Paul cheerleaders, who competed in the small varsity, non-tumbling division, welcome all criticism as constructive.

“Take away the good from what they do and use the comments to help your team get better,” Benoit said. “Comments give you a strong base to build on.”

Saint Paul finished out of the money in a nine-team division that included teams from Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago as well as the U.S., but the Patriots didn’t board the plane for the return flight to Toronto disappointed.

“We placed sixth out of ninth, a very respectable position for our team’s first time at the worlds competition,” said Benoit, a physical eduation teacher who is in her third year coaching cheerleading at Saint Paul.

With only two student athletes on the 14-member team in their final year of high school, it is also a young squad with a bright future. The five Grade 11 students can return for another year and seven Grade 10s for two years.

Out of the 14 – 12 regulars and two substitutes – five had never cheered before, but became quick studies, thanks to their love of the sport.

“A lot of these girls would practise everyday if we let them,” Benoit said. “They just enjoy cheering so much.”

Despite a scope that suggests the top of the ladder rather than a lower rung, worlds is just the start of the competitive season for the Patriots. Still to come are the Ontario Cheerleading Federation (OCF) provincial championships taking place March 4-5 at Powerade Centre in Brampton and the nationals April 1-2, also in Brampton.

“In the U.S., the season is just ending; in Canada, it’s just beginning,” Benoit said.

Saint Paul received bid money from the OCF for the sojourn south, but the lion’s share of the US$11,000 cost of the trip came from fundraising and out of the pockets of the participants.

Andrea Denomme, a Grade 10 student in her second year on the squad, called the chance to compete at worlds as a “one-in-a-million opportunity.”

“Having the privilege to go to worlds with this team means so much to me,” Denomme said. “It shows how much work and dedication we have had to push through ups and downs to be able to accomplish amazing things as a cheerleading team.”

Competing at worlds was a “dream come true” for Grade 12 student Kaitlynn Snell, a three-year veteran of the team who is following in the footsteps of an older sister who cheered at Saint Paul, as well as on the Scorpions club team.

“As a little girl my sister was my idol,” Snell said. “She would throw me around and show me different stunts.”

“It ignited a passion in me to be able to do what I have been able to in three out of my four years at Saint Paul.”

Snell is confident the friendships made with teammates will endure long after the cheering stops.

“I can say that I’ve developed really good friendships that I can see lasting for a very long time from being on this team,” she said. “This team has really become a family to me.”

“I can ask anyone on the team for advice if I had a problem, cheer-related or not.”

BFranke@postmedia.com