Team Takes Top Score of the Day with 70 Other Teams
The Amity Pop Warner Varsity Cheerleaders won first place in the 2016 National Cheer and Dance Championship in Orlando, Florida on Friday, December 9, marking the second consecutive win for the Pop Warner cheer organization. Though it could appear from the outside that the same team that took first place in their division last year went back this year and did it again, this year’s team was made of girls from last year’s Pee Wee and Junior Midget teams and two new members. Under the coaching of Alicia Soderquist, a new team was built from the ground up—literally and figuratively, beginning August 1, when the girls met for practice five nights a week until school began.
Made up of 20 girls ranging in age from 11 to 15, the girls cheered for the Amity Unlimited Pop Warner football team, which also had a milestone season, winning the top spot in its league and playing for the first time ever in the state championship. Soderquist, who has been coaching Amity Pop Warner Cheerleading for 5 years, admits that 2016 was one of the most trying seasons as a coach and also one of the most rewarding, but she doesn’t only mean by bringing home three trophies. “We’ve tackled several obstacles on the way to Nationals, but there is no greater accomplishment than to see a team that so dedicated to this sport and so supportive of one another even through our most difficult times.” The cheerleaders competed in the national competition against 12 other teams from across the country, with some of the toughest competition coming from right here in New England and the northeast.
Assistant Coach Tina Zito credits Cheer Coordinator, Alicia Soderquist. “She is an incredibly talented coach with the ability to bring out the best in all of her athletes. At the beginning of the season, she starts building her cheer routine around the potential she sees in the athletes; and she teaches, trains, and inspires her girls to get the best out of them. It’s a lot of hard work but the rewards are tremendous.”
Soderquist agrees, “It takes a village. If I did not have the incredible support of the parents we would be nowhere, and not to mention my phenomenal assistant, Tina. She helps me keep this program afloat and Amity Pop Warner would not be as successful as it has been if I did not have her by my side.”
Moving up from Level One to Level Two meant the girls could do a more complicated routine with higher lifts in their stunts and tumbling such as back handsprings. Moving up also meant that the competition would be more intense than it has ever been.
The team’s competitive season began October 8, where they took first place in the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner league, and qualified for the New England Regional Competition in November. On October 15, the team also won first place in the State Competition and in November, the team placed second, earning it a spot to compete for the national title at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Competing against 12 other teams, the Amity girls’ score of 87.78% landed the very top spot, not only in their divisional competition, but of the day’s 70 performances. The team also received the highest score of the day for stunts. The team came in ninth overall of the 300+ teams that competed in the week-long event.
As many of these girls have been Pop Warner cheerleaders for as many as eight years, the win is bittersweet to a handful who are aging out of the program. “This National Championship represents their last cheer competition,” says Zito. “It is especially bittersweet because Amity High School is the only school in the area that doesn’t have a Varsity Cheer Team. A group of dedicated moms is working with the administration at Amity High School to try and reintroduce High School Cheer at Amity, so that these girls can continue to participate in the sport that they love.”
The high school had a cheerleading team until 2008, when the coach left her position and school administration deemed there was not enough interest in cheerleading to sustain a program. With renewed interest apparent, the group of parents is hopeful to see cheer back at the high school soon. In the meantime, the girls who are coming back to Pop Warner next year are already counting down the days until August 1.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent