WOONSOCKET — There are several reasons as to why Woonsocket High captured its first Rhode Island Interscholastic League's State Competitive Cheerleading Co-Ed Division championship since 2006 at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house on March 9.
But having James (call him “Coach Jay”) Lemire as the chief architect – not to mention his mentor, Dawn Castonguay – easily leads the way.
Lemire, now 24, graduated from Woonsocket back in 2006, and during his final three years, he and his teammates took the Co-Ed crown each time.
“One of the reasons we were so good was because we all participated on the club level, but then we'd stop competing for our clubs in order to concentrate on high school cheerleading,” stated Lemire, who also acts as the chief of the competitive group at Superior Cheer, based on Main Street. “We poured our hearts and souls into it. We'd eat, sleep and breathe maroon and white.
“I even joked about that when Dawn opened Superior Cheer several years ago,” he added. “We made the club colors maroon and black, just for a slightly different look … Dawn actually was my coach when I was competing (for the Villa Novans).”
Lemire well recalls the day he got a call on his cell phone between his classes at Rhode Island College.
“She said, 'I'm thinking about opening an All-Star gym (for cheerleading). Are you ready?' and I just told her, 'Heck, yeah!' She asked me what I thought we should call it, and I immediately answered, 'Superior Cheer.'
“That's the name I had dreamed about ever since I was 11, when I became interested in cheerleading. I had always wanted that for a name if I ever became involved in a club, and now I am.”
Lemire, who decided to leave school to help his former coach, had acted as a volunteer assistant for the WHS competitive cheerleading squad dating back to the season after he graduated. Castonguay handed over the reins to him last fall.
He claimed when registration took place, 85 student-athletes signed on, but he, Castonguay and her daughter, Alysha, whittled the number to 65.
Eventually, during November tryouts, he sliced the amount to 16, with two or three alternates available in case of illness, injury or “retirement.
“Alysha (26) and I were on the same Woonsocket team for two years, as she graduated in 2005,” Lemire noted. “This is the first year that we won the state title since my senior year. Because we didn't have any boys who wanted to try out for competitive cheerleading after 2006, we couldn't field a co-ed team, but this year we did.
“We had three boys sign up, and I took one; that's because he could handle it, and he was a good athlete,” he added of senior Alex Berrios. “It used to be in the rules that a competitive squad needed two boys to be eligible compete at the high school level, but now it's just one.”
Even before practices began on Dec. 4, Lemire choreographed a routine, just as he does for Superior Cheer teams, and he then sent it out to a music producer to have a custom mix completed for the tune.
Neither the song nor the routine could last longer than two minutes, 30 seconds, as that's the limit according to rules.
“We had a theme to the routine; we called it 'Bring It Back,' and that referred to the fact we wanted another co-ed state championship,” he grinned. “As an athlete and a coach, I've never lost a state title, and I sure wasn't about to this year.”
Amazingly, the Novans didn't reign in any one of its four league meets, which pretty much were “invitationals” against Mount St. Charles, La Salle, Westerly and Mount Hope. The best finish Woonsocket managed at those four- or five-squad events: Third.
“They kept telling me, 'Coach Jay, we want to win this year. We want the state championship,'” he indicated. “They told me that before every practice and every meet. Of course, we didn't practice a lot, maybe twice a week for about 90 minutes to two hours.
“Still, they knew they had a strong team, probably stronger than any team we've ever fielded,” he added, then hesitated.
“OK, maybe not as good as the teams I was on, but – honestly? – they probably were because competitive cheerleading as evolved so much; it's at a completely different level, better than ever before … We had our first meet in early January, and we didn't do very well. They just weren't polished, but I knew they had a whole lot of potential because of their athleticism.
“Then again, we were only doing a third to a half of our routine. Like I said, we had four meets before we went to states, and we didn't win any. We didn't do our full routine because we held back. We've always been known to do that. You have to go to those meets and compete to qualify for states, but we didn't do our full routine until then.
“We did it every year,” he continued with a sly smile, “which probably makes us one of the most hated programs in Rhode Island. We do that because all of my high school kids either train with us here at Superior Cheer or other All-Star clubs, and they're too busy.”
Lemire mentioned Woonsocket liked to highlight its strengths during a routine, and those include tumbling and stunting.
“Tumbling is the gymnastics aspect of it (like those seen during national, world or Olympic floor exercises), and they found it pretty easy to max out at that,” he said. “The stunting is throws in the air, and we have great technique at that.”
Cranston East entered the Rhode Island Co-Ed Division segment as the favorites, but the Novans spoiled its dream, accumulating a total of 173.3 points, 2.6 better than the Thunderbolt (171.7).
“I just felt like it was well deserved,” Lemire said of ending the championship drought. They worked hard. They're a super-talented group of kids … I really can't picture a team doing what they did with such short practice time. They learned the routine so quickly, and were able to go out at the state meet and accomplish it.”
With the win, the Novans qualified to attend the New England Championships at the University of New Hampshire, but opted not to go “because we had ended on such a high note,” Lemire said.
Now that the season is over, Lemire and the Castonguay mother-daughter tandem are busy working with six Superior Cheer age-group clubs who have qualified to compete at the Spirit Sports' “Battle of the Beach” at Myrtle Beach, S.C. in the next week or two.
The younger Castonguay (also the head coach of the Cumberland High competitive cheerleading program and took it to a runner-up placement in the R.I. Large School Varsity category) is busy mentoring the “mini” team (ages 5-8) and Youth 2 squad (7-12), while Lemire is in charge of the older groups' improvement.
As for “Mom” Castonguay, as Superior Cheer owner, she takes care of the business aspect, but still dabbles in coaching; after all, under her charge, she led Lemire and Co. to a trio of state co-ed crowns.
“I take this very seriously,” Lemire said firmly. “I've been doing this since I was 11. My dad always told me, 'I don't care what you do. You can do whatever you want, but you've got to excel at it.' This is my whole life, and that's why.”
Among those team members, besides the lone male, Alex Berrios: Sabrina Allevato, Brittney Bourget, Karina Camacho, Bianca Corriveau, Justine Dancause, Bria Hogan, Katrina Lacasse, Erica Mayer, Savannah Palmer, Jakelle Picard, Hannah Rayos, Hope Simas, Samantha Suess, Tori Toranto and Jasmine White.