KIS cheerleaders to compete Feb. 16
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Feb. 11, 2013
Killingly Intermediate School cheerleading coaches Laura Gencarella and Kari Vaclavik watched their squad practice on Feb. 7. Chris Brown's “Turn Up the Music” streamed through the gym while 23 girls in six rows practiced maneuvers. The team was gearing up for the Southeastern Connecticut Spirit Festival to be held at Norwich Free Academy on Feb. 16.
The KIS squad has been making its mark in area competitions. They won team, stunt and group competitions at the Miss Cherry Pie Competition held at Tourtellotte High School. Emma Berkery took second place in individual competition. The eighth-grader had to perform a cheer, tumbles and jumps. “She's been working her butt off for years,” Vaclavik said.
On Feb. 2 the squad joined area middle and high school cheering squads at the Compete for a Cure Cheer Competition at Torrington High School. KIS won the middle school division, and also racked up the highest score of all cheerleading squads. They were Grand Champions with a score of 152. Montville High School came in second place with a score of 133. “We push them as hard as we would push high school girls,” said Vaclavik. “They proved last week that they were better than some high school squads.”
Vaclavik, a fifth-grade teacher at KIS, has been cheering since third grade. At NFA, she captained the cheer squad. Gencarella, a speech pathologist at KIS and KHS, was a cheerleader from seventh grade through high school. She danced on a college dance team. The two have teamed up to work with the 24 girls who make up the Cougar squad. “It’s a combination of our knowledge of the sport and their skill levels,” Gencarella said. “They are very talented.”
The students are as serious about the sport as their coaches are. The Cougars spend between two and three hours a day, five days a week in practice. “Cheerleading is a sport,” said Sierra Cassano.
“You have to be strong and you have to have muscles,” Tamarin Kelley added. “It's hard. People don’t realize how strong you have to be to be a cheerleader.”
The girls also have to be disciplined. They need to move in time with the music and each other. They have to be strong, limber and graceful. Their two-minute, 30-second routine calls for double jump combinations, pikes, tumbling, back hand springs and forward rolls, individual stunts, and a heel stretch pyramid. The pace is fast and there are no second chances in competitions.
“We are really hard on them,” said Vaclavik. “We push them to their limits.” If someone isn't keeping her arms straight in a stunt, she's reminded. If a knee bends when it's not supposed to, or someone doesn't ride the cradle down, or isn't in sync with the group's hand springs, the details are noticed. “It has to all come together at the end,” Vaclavik said.
Substitution is tough in cheerleading. “If someone is hurt, that pyramid is out of commission,” said Gancarella. “It can’t go up. The girls rely on each other.”
“They cheer at all these games,” she said. “They deserve to have someone cheering them on.”