The Ward Melville cheerleading team is heading back to nationals next month.
After placing in the top three at three state competitions this season, the Patriots also finished first for the third year in a row at the Empire Regionals at Hofstra University in December, where the girls earned an automatic bid to attend the national competition in Walt Disney World on Feb. 6 and 7.
“We worked really hard to perform the way we did that day,” senior co-captain Kellyann Egan said of the team’s performance that earned them the right to perform on the big stage for the fourth year in a row. “There was more pressure there because we wanted to do really well at home, and we ended up placing first and taking the automatic bid home and a banner for our gym.”
This was the first season when cheerleading was recognized as a sport by Section XI, and although the state scoring is different than that of the Universal Cheerleaders Association guidelines that the teams are used to, Ward Melville head coach Loren Quitoni said she’s just glad her girls are getting the recognition she feels they should.
“Being declared a sport has been a great way to give all cheerleaders the long overdue respect that they earned and deserve,” she said. “As there is more and more exposure to the sport each year, there is more and more respect and support given. Cheerleaders practice all but two months. It is extremely demanding on the body and requires an endless amount of time spent on proper safety skills, body technique and correct execution, not to mention that they perform during football and basketball season, on top of their own competition season.”
Cheerleading being declared a sport has also helped Ward Melville take part in more competitions, Quitoni said.
“Being a super large team, there weren’t many competitions that were offered that would hold so many girls, so we were never really able to compete that much in the past,” she said. “With each competition they’ve been getting better and better.”
The girls are in Division I Super Large, and although it’s been challenging for Quitoni to get all 35 of her girls in sync, senior co-captain and three-year varsity competitor Melanie Adams said she’s been surprised by what the team has been able to accomplish.
“I was nervous when I heard that we had so many younger girls, but they’ve really impressed me with their maturity and skill level,” she said of the team’s 15 freshmen and sophomores. “Representing Ward Melville is one of my favorite things. It’s very different from any other sport because you can’t ever just rely on yourself, you have to rely on your teammates, too, and they never let me down.”
Besides all that they do cheering-on their fellow student-athletes and taking part in their own competitions, the Patriots also partake in a myriad of fundraisers and community events, like clinics, family fun night at Minnesauke Elementary School and Stony Brook’s breast cancer walk, while also serving as special helpers at a dinner hosted by the school in honor of a student who is battling cancer, and adopting a family for the holidays.
“I love helping out,” senior three-year varsity cheerleader and co-captain Katarina Ramos said. “It’s really nice to gather together as a team to support the community and support our friends and our classmates.”
The squad also added a new teammate in sophomore Kim Yuknis, who is in a wheelchair.
“The girls have adopted her as one of their own,” Quitoni said. “She comes to every practice.”
Yuknis said she’s had a lot of fun fulfilling her dream of being on the varsity team, and hopes the Patriots can excel at nationals.
“I want them to do their best and I’m always going to be supporting them because they’ve always done that for me,” she said. “Loren was my gym teacher and helped me achieve this goal of mine. She’s always been supportive and she’s always believed in me. I’m very grateful, and I hope to be able to give back to them what they’ve given to me.”
Now that the big day is fast approaching, senior co-captain Katrina Henry said her squad is focused on next weekend’s event.
“We’re just working hard on competing at nationals and trying to do the best that we can do,” she said.
The girls have one more competition on Saturday before nationals, and Adams said her team’s goal is to outdo last year’s feat, where the girls placed 11th, coming just one or two points shy of breaking the top 10.
“We practice so much and we’re just so good this year,” she said. “We struggled at times in previous years, but I only see good things in the future. The practices haven’t been all that hard, and I know the girls listen very well and they take direction. I want to do even better than Top 10. I want to make the Top 5 this year, and I really think my team can make it.”