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Thursday, February 14, 2008

A team on the rise

Story and photographs/By Robyn Mayer

Three years ago there wasn't much interest in cheerleading at Badger High School, and competing on the state level wasn't even a goal.

Robyn Mayer/The Week
Members of the Badger High School cheerleading squad practice prior to performing. From left-top: Cyndi Przybylski and Lindsay Smith. First group from left: Hailey Griswold, hidden behind; Michelle Schultz, front; Kayla Daleka, backspot; and Katie Nagel, right. Center: Ashley Meyer, top; and Jordyn Thorson, bottom. Right group: Abby Owens, left; Melissa Monroe, center; and Jackie Ippolito, backspot.
But varsity cheerleading coach Leslie Abruzzo set out to change that, and last Saturday, Badger placed second in their first appearance at the State Cheer Championships. The Wisconsin Association of Cheer and Pom Coaches sponsored the competition, held in Green Bay

It is a success story that has been three years in the making.

In the past, Badger cheerleaders competed occasionally, but served mainly as support for other teams.

When Abruzzo came on board as the head cheer coach three years ago, she redesigned the cheer program and convinced a reluctant student body to try out for cheerleading.

Eventually the program began to grow, and the 2007-08 season saw record tryout attendance, enough for both a JV and a varsity squad.

Qualifying for state was the next hurdle for the squad, and it would require an adjustment in the team's thinking.

The squad had a disappointing fourth-place performance at the conference competition in January, and their mood was low.

While practices went well, the squad seemed to lose focus during competitions.

Regionals followed two weeks later, and neither the squad nor Abruzzo wanted a repeat of the conference performance.

Pep talks ensued and the squad began to work in earnest during practices. Little by little, the mood changed; minor disturbances that normally thwarted their concentration were ignored. They achieved focus.

When regionals arrived, it was a different squad that ran onto the mat that day.

"The difference in the squad from conference and regionals was that they decided they wanted to do better," said Abruzzo.

"They focused more, they worked harder at practice, and they stayed positive." Those changes in attitude resulted in a third place finish and a qualifying spot at the state competition.

For the Badger squad, the two weeks after regionals would involve breaking down the routine they had been using since November, until everything was rock solid. Minor choreography changes were made. Segments of the cheer were drilled over and over. Stunts were practiced repeatedly. It was tedious work but they met the challenge with positive, hardworking attitudes.

On the morning of last Saturday's competition, they entered the Brown County knowing that they had a job to do.

The Badger squad ran on to the state competition mat confident and relaxed. They performed as they had practiced for the past two weeks. Their stunts were strong, their jumps were high, and their dance was sharp and their smiles never faded.

In the end, the squad that was never expected to make it to state was holding a large second-place trophy that was eclipsed only by the grins on every girl's face.

Already, the squad is looking forward to next season. As they watched the rest of the competition, conversations among the girls and Coach Abruzzo were peppered with the phrase "Next year, we should..."

"We are a young squad," said Abruzzo. "We aren't losing any seniors. It's definitely to our advantage."


The author works for the Week and coaches Badger's JV cheerleading squad.

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