ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Competition cheerleading in New York is still in limbo.
Unlike other high risk sports at the high school level, cheerleading is the only one that spans two seasons. The first half of the scheduled cheer season was postponed in the fall, with hopes of being able to compete as planned in winter.
Now, the original second half of their season is postponed indefinitely, which adds another layer of questions to the possibility of having traditional high school cheerleading in 2021.
Stunting and the actual act of reciting a cheer are the two parts of the sport that qualify it as high-risk. Cheering can be compared to singing, another high risk activity, while stunting requires close physical contact and touching.
Both are major components of the NYSPHSAA cheerleading scoresheet. Removing them or changing the point values would change the very essence of cheer in New York.
“That would change the way we’re judged completely if we were to attend a competition,” said Rush-Henrietta varsity head cheer coach Rachel Telisky. “I think they’re waiting it out and waiting to see what they’re going to say before they make any quick judgements moving forward. If they did decide to move forward with adjustments and how we’re being judged, it’s going to be a huge upheaval for everybody.”
There is no word yet on when cheerleading will begin or how it will look, if it happens at all. If it begins in the NYSPHSAA Fall 2 season, coaches are unsure whether it would extend through the scheduled spring sport season for a shortened season, or if the season could be held at a traditional length and extend into the summer.
Another challenge for coaches has been keeping their kids competition ready without the regularly scheduled open gyms. A regular offseason for cheer is from late spring to mid-August, so returning to stunting for competition is a safety concern for parents and coaches alike.
East Rochester varsity cheer coach Katie Costello has been following school district protocols and state COVID-19 guidelines by having the Bombers get in the weight room for strength and conditioning work.
“We’re trying to work on their endurance and strength and flexibility without many of those traditional cheerleading elements,” said Costello.
Telisky owns a dance studio in Henrietta, and has allowed her cheerleaders to participate in some of the classes traditionally offered for her dance students.
“We were doing virtual stretching and jumping classes that way,” said Telisky. “I was letting them come in and take them for free so they could keep working.”
Beyond the physical preparation has been making sure student athletes are emotionally and mentally supported during such a difficult time. Costello has been checking in often to make sure her team is alright.
“The conversations we have with our girls are centered around ‘we’re here for you’ and ‘we’re still your coach whether we’re in season, out of season, or if the season looks different’,” said Costello.
“‘We love you, we support you, here’s what we can do right now. Here’s what you can do to support yourself mentally, physically, emotionally.’ We’ve been strengthening our relationships with them, no matter how different things have been looking.”