Cheerleading comes to Townsend Harris

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Townsend’s first ever cheerleading squad at this year’s pep rally. Photo by Aditya Samaroo.

Winter will bring the inauguration of Townsend Harris’s first ever cheerleading squad. What first started as an idea thought up by senior Chelsea McGee during the summer, and shared with fellow senior Briana Draguca, manifested itself into a full-blown cheer squad.

According to co-captains Briana and Chelsea, they directed their idea to Assistant Principal of Organization, Health, and Physical Education Ellen Fee. She told them that they would need to get a petition signed to indicate that cheerleading would garner some interest. Thus, they went around the cafeteria during lunch bands to amass enough signatures.

Once they accumulated enough, they pitched their proposal to Principal Anthony Barbetta, Assistant Principal Veronica York, Athletic Director Keith Hanson, and other administrators. Once Mr. Barbetta approved, they set tryouts for early October.

Cheerleading has since been established as both a club and a team. Members will receive the same credit as any other student athlete, but the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) does not recognize cheerleading as an official sport.

Briana and Chelsea recruited Biology teacher Sarah Oberlander to be their advisor, citing her youth and experience in hula hooping and advising the Zumba club as the motivation behind their choice.

Due to Ms. Oberlander’s  limited availability, the cheerleading team will only be practicing on Thursdays and Fridays, and at least for the first year, will only be a winter sport. They will only be supporting the boys varsity basketball team at all their home games. Where exactly they will be standing has yet to be decided, but in addition to cheers, they will perform stunts during the halftime show. Each halftime show will probably last three to four minutes. Briana noted that they want their squad to present a united front at each game: “We don’t want to split the girls up, like you get this game and that game, because we all want to be there together.”

Cheerleading tryouts were a two-day affair. According to Chelsea, “The first tryout, we definitely got a lot more girls than we expected, so it was chaotic.”

During the second tryout, the cheerleading hopefuls were arranged in groups of seven, and Briana and Chelsea walked around evaluating how well the girls had mastered the routine that had been shown to them during the first tryout.

The tryouts were open to both males and females, and some boys did attend the first tryout, although none came back for the second one. Briana said, “We actually needed guys, to serve as bases for some of the stunts.”

Out of over 60 girls, 27 made the cut. The first ever Townsend Harris Cheerleading Squad made their debut at this year’s pep rally, held on October 21. Clad in their uniforms and waving around crimson and gold pom poms, the cheerleaders performed to Lady Gaga’s chart-topper “Applause.”

When talking about how they prepared for the pep rally, the captains said that they only had a couple of practices because the girls already knew the dance from tryouts. Still, Chelsea described tryouts as an unexpected experience. “You envision [the dance] a certain way in your head and you teach it, and it doesn’t always go the way you think it will.”

In spite of whatever hurdles they may have come across, Briana and Chelsea said that choreographing their first dance only took a day or so.

This ease can be owed to Briana having a background in dance, and Chelsea doing competitive gymnastics for the past seven years. Many of the cheerleaders who made the team also had previous experience in dance and gymnastics. Junior Sarah Elhachimi had previously done baton twirling, and her exposure to basic stunts allowed her to adapt to the cheer routine easily.

Junior Jada Allred said, “I started dancing at a young age and that really helps with cheerleading in being able to pick up dance moves.”

Although captains Briana and Chelsea do not have every detail worked out, they have a sense of what they’ll be doing in the future.

When asked whether they would be attempting to learn fancy stunts, Chelsea replied, “It’s not about us teaching them, but rather showcasing what talents they already have.”