HARWICH ─ They knew the competition would be challenging, but when the Monomoy cheerleading squad headed to the regional competition in Franklin last weekend, they ignored the odds and gave it everything they had, impressing their fans and their coach.
“It was extremely tough,” said coach Robbin Kelly. “I can't tell you how proud I am of their performance.”
While most fans see the team on the sidelines and performing at halftime during the Monomoy football team's games, what many don't realize is the Sharks also work diligently in their practices to prepare for tournaments such as those that earned them a spot at regionals, which was no small feat.
“You have to qualify by going to your league competition,” said Kelly, who explained that there are many levels to competition. “You're broken into divisions by your league and have to qualify by points or winning the league. Monomoy was first in its league.”
To accomplish that victory, Kelly said the work put in was immense.
“It's definitely a sport,” she said. “They have to do tumbling, stunting, and they're lifting girls above their heads. It requires a lot of coordination. The routine is only 2:30 but there's a lot happening in that 2:30. It's a lot of work.”
Kelly came to the Monomoy team after literally being drawn out of retirement by parents familiar with her skills after having their daughters progress through Kelly's former Marquee All-Stars cheer company. Prior to that she was head coach for the Lower Cape Bluefins, and took a Nauset Middle School squad all the way to Nationals, making them the first team from the state to do so.
“I love cheerleading,” Kelly said. “I've been doing it for a long time, probably 30 years. I like that it's a team bonding experience.”
Her 2017 squad, said Kelly, is special, and includes assistant coaches Kim Hersey and Sydney Pina.
“This group of girls is the nicest group of girls,” she said. “Usually in cheerleading you have cattiness. Not in this group. They look out for each other. If somebody's not getting something they show them, and support one another in getting the routine.”
The group includes lone senior Lizzy Pandiscio, who admits to being reluctant when considering the sport.
“I was a competitive gymnast and my coach saw me tumbling on the field during my brothers' Bluefins practice,” Pandiscio said. “She immediately started telling me cheer was for me, but I hated cheerleaders and cheer culture so I was totally against it at first.”
Then Pandiscio went to the first Monomoy game and saw girls flying in basket tosses. The cheer bug bit.
“I thought 'I want that to be me,'” Pandiscio said. “I've been amazed by and in love with cheer since that day.”
Perhaps her favorite aspect of the sport is the bond it has helped forge between the girls on the Monomoy squad.
“I love the togetherness of cheer,” she said. “I love that no matter how upset we are with each other, we have to get over it because we literally cannot do anything without one another. Since we have to work together, we fight together, we cry together, but also we celebrate together. It's a support that can bring a senior and an eighth grader together as sisters and that's something I cannot appreciate enough. I've made so many amazing friends through cheer and it pulls me toward people that I never would've been pulled toward otherwise.”
Kelly said the program has also seen enthusiastic support from Monomoy Athletic Director Karen Guillemette and Principal Bill Burkhead, who both attended the team's performance at regionals on Nov. 12.
“We have a really good support team with Karen and some of the team mothers, and the principal has come down during practices to tell them how proud he is of them,” Kelly said. “I know that people go to the games to watch the boys, but it's nice to be recognized.”
“I'll miss home football games, cheering to our awesome student section and having them yell back to us,” said Pandiscio. “They have been the best I could have ever asked for and they have been endlessly supportive for all five years, even before there were bleachers there.”
Another aspect of the Monomoy squad that Pandiscio values is their perseverance.
“We took on a hard job at the start,” Pandiscio said. “When I first joined the team, I was in eighth grade at Harwich Middle School practicing at Harwich High for a team of two combined schools that already were struggling to merge.”
Pandiscio noted that by tradition, a cheer team is responsible for uniting fans and teams, which, in the case of the emerging Monomoy union, seemed daunting.
“It was a huge responsibility from the beginning trying to get Harwich and Chatham to join as one,” she said. “It has meant so much to me to have an opportunity to help in this merger and to do it at the best school I can imagine attending.”
Cheer, said Pandiscio, also helped her come out of her proverbial shell.
“When I started cheer I was shy and quiet,” she said. “I was in eighth grade and was still in middle school. I was the little girl that wasn't afraid to be tossed around but still had no clue what she was doing, and I used to get yelled at at practice because I said so little of the cheers that I literally used to mouth the wrong words to them.”
Cheerleading, Pandiscio said, changed everything.
“Through cheerleading I found my voice, in a way,” she said. “As a senior, I now yell over fans and I have so much confidence on the mat. I remember at the end of my first competition, my mom cried because she saw me smiling on the mat and that was so out of the norm for me. Cheerleading has given me a place to shine.”
Getting recognized has helped boost her confidence immensely.
“When I was in eighth grade I had seniors seeing me saying 'Oh, you're the girl they throw!'” Pandiscio said. “That recognition alone has given me so much confidence that I know I'll use from here on out because it's made such a difference in the way I live and act.”
Due to other interests and her involvement in other school activities, Pandiscio is unable to cheer this winter and is nearing her final performance with the team at its annual Thanksgiving Day game at Sacred Heart. She acknowledges that nostalgia is already creeping in.
“I'm going to miss this endlessly,” she said. “I've been thinking about this a lot, and quite honestly, I think I'm going to miss our bus rides and prepping for games/comps the most. We play music, and we sing and dance, and we learn so much about each other. It brings together people from all walks of life: gymnasts, dancers, singers, band kids, theater kids, other athletes, eighth graders, seniors, and everyone in between. I cannot express how much I'm going to miss those few minutes before we take the mat at comp when we exchange remarks like, 'you've got this girls' and 'I love you guys.'
Then there are the actual performances and all their energy, excitement, and, according to Pandiscio, sass.
“I'm going to miss the two and a half minutes when nothing else matters, where we leave our hearts on the mat, and we hit every single second of our routine like we own the place,” she said. “I'll miss the sass, seeing the judges smile as we use our sassiest faces and express the complete confidence that radiates from one cheerleader to another. I'll miss it all so much but if all goes as planned, my next journey will bring me to college cheerleading, where I'll get to start as the baby of the team again, and grow to something I'm sure I can't even imagine right now.”