Putnam cheerleaders fight the good fight

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., Jan. 10, 2012
The cheerleaders stake out their own area of section Z, where fans congregate. Photos by D. Coffey.
The cheerleaders stake out their own area of section Z, where fans congregate. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Putnam High School cheerleading squad had their work cut out for them on Jan. 9. The boys' basketball team hosted Hartford Classical, one of the league's best small basketball teams. The Clippers fell behind early in a game that went all Classical's way.

“I think they went into this game knowing it was a good school,” said Jocelyn Champagne, a senior captain on the cheerleading squad. “Good or bad, they know we're there for them.”

Periodically, the squad went out onto the court to rally the hometown crowd. The cheerleaders made a two-line formation and yelled, “Keep it up. Keep it up. Keep that Clipper spirit up,” before hustling off again.

Eleven girls make up Putnam's squad. Sheila Partlow is in her first year as head coach of the team, which includes three seniors, two freshman and six sophomores. The fans make up the 12th squad member, but fans in the hometown section were quiet on that night. “The girls’ basketball team are big fans,” Champagne said, “but they had an away game tonight.”

“We have some very athletic girls,” Partlow said. “They are very strong. They are very loud, which is good. They are very good at picking up their dancing. They're very strong with stunting.”

The squad rushed out onto the court during a time-out. In seconds Farrah Belliveau was up in the air standing on her teammates' hands. “Farrah is one of our fliers,” Partlow said. “She can easily be 12 or 14 feet up in the air.”

The girls have to have a lot of trust in each other in order to do such a stunt. They also need to have strong body control. “She has to stand on people's hands,” Partlow said. “And her teammates have to be able to hold her up.” When Belliveau came down, she was caught in what Partlow called a cradle. “They toss her up and they catch her,” she said.

Missing one person can throw off their whole routine. “The positions that people fill, the roles they play, are very unique, and so you can't just take one person to fill someone's spot because it relies on height, weight, the way you hold your body, everything,” said Partlow.

Practice sessions involve dance moves, tumbling and sometimes working up their own cheers and routines. The team has to come up with original routines for the two private competitions and one state competition they will enter this year. The state competition requires they perform a 2.5-minute routine. “In that time, we're doing 10 stunts, two pyramids, three sets of jumps, dancing and cheering. We are always moving. We're doing arm motions and we're getting judged on everything,” the coach said. The routine has to include tumbling, an area Partlow concedes is her squad's weakest.

“People don't realize the work involved,” said Partlow. “They think it's just girls in skirts, shaking pompoms and doing cheers. I don't think they realize the athleticism that's involved with the stunting, jumping and tumbling.”

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