BURRILLVILLE â€” Shortly after head coach Katie Dutch had shot a few team photos Monday afternoon, members of the Burrillville High varsity cheerleading squad sat near the mid-court stripe of the school's domed gymnasium doing what most girls revel in â€“ joking around, talking about boys, etc.
Senior Morgan Ferschke, however, reflected upon a truly stellar season, one which culminated in the capture of the R.I. Cheerleading Coaches Association's Non-League Varsity Division state championship, that achieved on Sunday, March 4 at Portsmouth High School.
â€śI can definitely believe it; it's because we worked so hard for it,â€ť Ferschke explained of the Broncos' attaining its third straight RICCA crown, courtesy of a 2.25-point triumph over gamey runner-up Smithfield. â€śFor months and months, we were bleeding, sweating and crying â€“ and suffering lots of bruises â€“ to win again.
â€śWe worked three hours a day almost every day, and that's not counting all the football, basketball and hockey games we go to to cheer on our teams,â€ť she added. â€śYou know, we practice on a wrestling mat that's only, like, 20 feet-by-20 feet, and â€“ at competitions â€“ the mats are about 42 feet-by-42 feet; they're bigger and, obviously, much thicker.
â€śWe also practice in the auditorium because the gym is always so full. We're very proud of what we accomplished, but it took a ton of work.â€ť
Several of the 20 teammates cheer for the football, basketball and hockey squads, though others â€“ due to jobs, hobbies and homework requirements â€“ choose to register only for the fall or winter seasons. Still, all know that mastering the four categories in which they are judged â€“ including cheer, dance, stunts and tumbling â€“ takes a great deal of dedication and discipline.
It virtually is a 12-month-a-year program.
â€śWe have to condition ourselves at captains' practices all summer long,â€ť stated junior Lauren Connell, a tri-captain along with seniors Kelly Berthod and Kelsy Desorcy. â€śWe run a mile at every practice, then we do a lot of stretching, a lot of cardio and push-ups and abs (a.k.a. abdominal work). We have to be very flexible.
â€śWe had tryouts in May for the following school year, so we practiced two or three times a week all summer,â€ť she added. â€śWe also actually have to practice before we go to a competition. We have to be at school by 8 a.m., and we run through our routines so we get them down. It's pretty tough, but it all paid off.â€ť
Call that an understatement. At the RICCA Championships, eight officials judged each team on its precision and attention to detail in dance, cheer, stunts and tumbling. The Broncos registered 125.25 points, just 2.25 more than the Sentinels.
Cranston West took a distant third, 25 points behind the state champions.
â€śThere are different divisions for the state's teams,â€ť stated Dutch, who also was a cheerleader at Burrillville before graduating in 2003. â€śThree years ago, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League switched cheerleading from an activity to a sport, and â€“ when it did that â€“ the high schools had to decide whether to classify itself as a varsity team or just keep it as it was.
â€śWe decided not to be a varsity sport, but we will be for the first time next year,â€ť she continued. â€śWe chose not to be a part of the league, so RIIL officials designated a separate division for those non-league schools. Next year, we'll be able to go to the RIIL State Championships.â€ť
The Broncos trekked to two invitationals, one each at Narragansett and Mount St. Charles, and finished first in each. Those were held on Feb. 26 and March 3; the following day, they snared the crown.
â€śWhen the girls won, they went ballistic,â€ť Dutch chuckled. â€śThey judged the girls on literally everything. If a girl's bow falls out of hair and to the ground, there's a deduction. If someone steps on it, there's another deduction for that. People don't realize how precise the routine has to be. You can get penalized just like a football or basketball team does. It's just a different kind of penalty.
â€śThey're judged on timing, technique, sharpness and voice,â€ť she added. â€śThey have to be loud and clear; they have to be very sharp with their words. If the judges can't understand them, more points are deducted. It's actually pretty brutal.
â€śI knew we'd be close; we hadn't seen Smithfield this year at any other competition, and it's always such a good team. We weren't sure what the competition would be like. I can say this was the closest points differential we've ever had with Smithfield.â€ť
Stated Kelsy Desorcy: â€śImmediately after our routine, I felt like we did amazing. By the way, can you put this in (the newspaper)? I love our team: Go Broncos! Anyway, all of our stunts, we hit on; all of our moves were together. You could just tell how we did, because the crowd was yelling 'It was awesome!'â€ť
When asked why they knew they had nailed the routine, which lasts exactly two minutes and 30 seconds, Ferschke offered, â€śWe knew we did well, but we didn't know how the judges were going to view our routine. They announced the runner-up first, and when they said, 'In second place, Smithfield!' we knew we had done it. It was incredible!â€ť
Dutch indicated the Broncos scored most of their points with their stunts/tosses.
â€śI told them beforehand that if they hit their stunts, they'd win,â€ť stated Dutch, who is ably assisted by 2007 BHS graduate and former cheerleader Amanda Fontenault. â€śI noticed everyone else did great stunts that day, so that's why I said that.
â€śI can honestly say I never thought I'd see the day at Burrillville High that we'd win three straight state titles,â€ť she added. â€śFrom the time I graduated, we always had our coaches leave the program for one reason or another, and they're the reason the program excelled. They brought us to prominence, but then they left.â€ť
Mentioned Fontenault: â€śMy mom actually helped out as a coach back in 2006 just so we could have a team. We had coaches do it for a year and then leave, so the girls, skill-wise, wouldn't keep excelling because we didn't have that constant. We weren't as consistent. Then Katie came back, and that helped a lot. After all, the program and its planning has to be just as strong as the team.â€ť
(It should be noted that Barbara Fontenault, a former North Smithfield High gymnast and cheerleader, still helps out the Burrillville contingent as a volunteer assistant).
Those members of the BHS squad include tri-captains Berthod, Connell and Desorcy; seniors Ferschke, Maria Fidrych, Jennifer Martins, Kacee Leclair and identical twins Marrissa and Allissa Koprusak; sophomores Morgan Allen, Arianna Dusseault, Alison D'Amario, Kiannah Koprusak and Kelsey Farrell; and freshmen MaKenzie Gagne, Jessica Pratt, Emily Gelinas, Amber Fafard, Paige Hoffman and Bethany Gervais.
â€śI think moving on to the RIIL State Varsity Championships will be a challenge, but I also believe we can do well,â€ť Connell predicted. â€śIt'll be a lot of work to keep up with the other league teams, but we do a ton of work already. It's a totally different ballgame when you're in the league; you just have to be better than you were before.
â€śThose league teams are incredible, and it will change a lot of how our program operates, but I know we're up to it. We have the work ethic.â€ť