Fans and fellow competitors watch a routine during the Raider Rumble at Colonie High School on Saturday, Feb. 8. Jim Franco / Spotlight News
COLONIE — Cheerleading is about more than pom-poms and screaming and the fact that it is now recognized as an official sport in New York state athletics was more than evident in town last week.
The Shaker High cheerleading squad hosted the inaugural Sweetheart Classic tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 5 with 14 teams competing and Colonie High, on Saturday, Feb. 8, hosted the eighth annual Raider Rumble with 47 teams, including 17 youth teams.
“New York state proclaimed us a sport four years ago so we are still a novice and there are still some kinks to work out but at Colonie we have always considered it a sport so it wasn’t a difficult transition for us,” said the Colonie head coach Ann Grasso-Little, who has been involved with Capital District cheerleading for nearly three decades.
Being an official varsity sport in the eyes of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association means that athletes compete against a set of standards similar to ice skating or gymnastics and the panel of judges evaluates each team on how the different elements of their respective routines measure up to a perfect 10. Difficulty of the routine also plays a role in scoring but even that measure must be applied universally across the state rather than on a subjective level as before.
It also means there will be sectional competition and a state championship. On Feb. 29, Section II squads will compete for the right to advance to the states on March 7 at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
There are other restrictions and guidelines dictated by the state governing the classifications of the schools based on size, tryout dates and the certifications coaches must now carry not unlike football, softball and lacrosse coaches.
The cheerleaders train and practices as hard as any football squad and bring to the table a unique combination of dance, gymnastics and unbridled enthusiasm. And while it is clear each team is out to win, and while the competition is fierce, the tournaments, which can last for hours, do have a party-like atmosphere about them. It doesn’t matter who is on the floor, the other teams applaud for the routine.
And yes, lacrosse and football players do shaker hands after a contest, but when cheerleaders are done, it is not unusual for them to grab someone from the other team and dance along with the music.
“The event was amazing,” said Shaker coach Katy Pfeifer. It was the first ever week night cheer competition for Section 2 and we were so happy so many teams joined us. The feel of the night was relaxing and the teams really enjoyed themselves while supporting each program.”
The host teams do not compete in their own tournaments because there the team members are too busy doing the work such as selling raffle tickets, serving food, ushering fans about the school and everything else.
Parents, of course, step up to volunteer and in Colonie, sponsors like Texas Roadhouse, Bruegers, Dunkin’ Donuts and a host of others donate the food.
Also in Colonie, the youth teams get a taste of being in a real competition and get judged by a trained panel of officials while still technically putting on an exhibition. It works as a feeder program for the varsity programs and it does elevate the enthusiasm the young athletes already have for the sport.
And, this year, the Siena Dance Team did two exhibition routines.
The winners of the Sweetheart Classic are:
•Small Varsity D1: Shenendehowa
•Small Varsity D2: Mohonasen
• Large Varsity D1: Colonie
• Large Varsity D2: Averill Park
• COED Division: Columbia
• Grand Champions: Mohonasen High School
Results of the Raider Rumble are as follows:
• Small Varsity D1: Shaker
• Small Varsity D2: Mohonasen
• Large Varsity D1: Bethlehem
• Large Varsity D2: Averill Park
• Coed: Saratoga
• Highest Score: Mohonasen