FOXBORO – The music was pumping in the gymnasium at Foxboro High School on March 8, the air permeated with the floral scents of perfume and hairspray, fans staking their claim on seats in the rows of bleachers. It wasn't a game they were attending, but the Cheer Regionals featuring none other than the Monomoy Regional High School cheerleading squad.
After more than five months of sideline spirit and energetic halftime performances during both the fall football and winter basketball seasons, the Monomoy cheerleaders shifted their focus from rooting on Monomoy's athletic teams to the thrill of competition, which began with a strong showing in the Attleboro Invitational on Feb. 17.
Since then, the relatively young team has been honing its routine in preparation for regionals, resulting in a high-energy performance with a bit of tumbling and some impressive stunts, including liberty stunts and arabesques.
Senior cheer captain Emma Santoni has been cheering since she was in elementary school, getting started with the Lower Cape Youth Cheer program when she was 7. More than 10 years later, Santoni is a volunteer coach for the program, and has been with the Monomoy program for five years, serving as captain for several seasons.
What makes cheerleading special, said Santoni, is the connection between teammates, strengthened by team breakfasts, dinners, and practices.
“Everyone helps each other out and wishes each other good luck,” Santoni said. “It's literally a family. You spend so many hours with them, three hours a day most days a week. You get frustrated as heck, but you love them and are so proud of everyone.”
Santoni said the competitions are a chance for the team to show their dedication to what every cheerleader agrees is a sport.
“It's everything,” Santoni said. “We've been doing the same routine for two years. Unfortunately last year was more of a rebuilding year because we lost kids, so being able to come out and show everyone how hard we work, these kids from a little town on Cape Cod, is awesome.”
When confronted with people who scoff at the notion that cheerleading isn't a sport, Santoni said she just laughs.
“I tell them, 'You try and lift girls above your head, and dance and smile and stay sharp for more than two minutes,'” she said. “They just don't get how much physical activity is in cheerleading. They picture us on the sidelines of the football games cheering the team on, but even then, we have to be the spirit even when they're losing 50-0.”
Senior Jess Currie joined the team this winter, opting to give cheer a try after years of playing ice hockey. She agrees with Santoni that those who don't consider it a sport are misinformed.
“It's really hard,” Currie said. “It's definitely a sport, and obviously anything that's competitive is a sport, so they're wrong.”
Currie said her first cheer experience was a positive one, offering her a different experience from other athletics, such as field hockey and lacrosse.
“It's really fun,” Currie said. “I've never been on a team like this. I've always done different types of sports so this has been a different experience. I really like the team and the coach, Robbin Kelley.”
Currie said the cheer experience and competition offered key insights that she'll take with her going forward.
“I learned that no matter what you're doing, the way you present yourself is important,” she said. “That was a good lesson that I don't normally think about in my other sports.”
Senior captain Ava Ranello-Barbella, who has been part of the Monomoy team for two years, said that for her, cheer has boosted her confidence immensely.
“It's made me become more confident in anything I do,” she said. “I used to be really shy and timid and not want to try things, but cheer kind of forces you to do things you're not comfortable with. It gets you out of your comfort zone and builds that confidence.”
Ranello-Barbella added that what she appreciated about being a member of the squad was knowing her teammates had her back.
“It meant having a place to go where you know you feel connected,” she said. “When anybody talks about the team, it's all of us. If something goes wrong, it's all of us. We don't blame one person. It's given me a sense of unity.”
And to the naysayers, doubting the intensity and importance of cheer?
“I would like them to try it,” Ranello-Barbella said. “Because they'll realize it's a lot more than being on the sidelines of a game.”