There are few sports where teammates rely on each other more than cheerleading.
If more than two cheerleaders miss a practice, the practice is cancelled because the cheerleaders' routine requires all the girls working in unison. That means time lost, and less of a chance to win a competition.
“I make them sign contracts at the beginning of the season saying they won’t go on vacation or go away while the season is going on,” Waterford High School cheerleading coach Nicole Kennedy said Tuesday. “It’s all in.”
That commitment paid off. After two years of “building,” the 18-girl Waterford High School team proved it is still a force by finishing second in the ECC tournament.
“It was nice,” team co-captain Shelby Huntington said. “We really worked hard this year and came together and it was nice to leave with a trophy.”
The team dedicated its season to Amy Jones-Eades, a coach at East Celebrity Elite in Montville, where many of Waterford’s cheerleaders were trained. Jones-Eades, 29, died in November after a two-year long battle with cancer, and her initials were put on the team's practice shirts.
“She was a big inspiration to so many people,” Huntington said. “I think she would be proud (of our second-place finish).”
Three years ago, Waterford High School won the New England tournament, and the squad’s coach retired. Kennedy, a former Waterford High School cheerleader herself, took over the team, which had lost many of its seniors.
The previous two years, the team did not place in the ECC tournament, as it was a young team that was “building,” she said. This year’s team, which still only had four seniors out of the 18 cheerleaders, proved stronger, finishing second in the ECC tournament. The team lost to first-place Stonington by a mere 1.7 points.
“I was really excited,” said co-captain Angela Pezzello. “Obviously, we would have loved to finished first, but we were excited that we placed.”
Still, the team has revenge on its mind. The team will compete this weekend in another tournament, as will Stonington.
“We want to beat (Stonington),” Huntington said. "That's our goal."
The girls form a tight bond, which is required to get their routine down, Kennedy said. All the girls need to go to all the practices, because if just a few are missing they can’t practice their routine, she said.
The team cheers at all the home Waterford High School basketball games, but the real thrill is the four competitions the team competes in every year, Kennedy said. At the competitions, the team gets two-and-a-half minutes to do their routine, and that’s it, she said.
“We basically work all year for two-and-a-half minutes,” Kennedy said.
The team will compete in the Class M state tournament in two weeks, she said.