By Jordan J. Michael
BERNE –– When Amanda Allen started coaching the Berne-Knox-Westerlo varsity cheerleaders in 2008, the squad didn’t get much attention. Now, the cheerleaders have locked up the first-ever Nationals bid in school history as Bulldog fans frequently request cheers from the team.
At practice on Tuesday, Allen said that her 13 cheerleaders might have bet on her getting a tattoo if BKW places in the top five at the Universal Cheerleaders Association National High School Cheerleading Championships at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. on Feb. 9 and 10.
BKW’s school spirit has never been in question, but the cheerleaders have watched the interaction improve dramatically over the last few years. “Yes, the fans have always yelled and been into the games,” said Allen, “but the atmosphere is better.”
BKW wasn’t cheering for the girls’ basketball team on Tuesday night because the cheerleaders were busy working on their routine for February’s competition. Since the Bulldogs don’t have a football team, the girls have had only a few months to get ready for a very important moment.
“It’s so much pressure,” said senior Gabby Audino. “It’s exciting because, for once, we get to represent our school on a national level. I think we’ll get added respect.”
No BKW sports team has ever competed on a national level. Some detractors may say that cheerleading isn’t a real sport, but it takes athletic ability to flip around and complete difficult stunts. Cheerleading involves both danger and discipline.
“I want our routine to be a surprise to people,” Kenzie Weiler said. “We have a mix of music, different songs, so I think we can bring it. We’re creating things that none of us ever thought we could create. It’s like precision right now.”
Allen is a former BKW student and cheerleader, having graduated in 2000. She never went to Nationals, but was one of three BKW cheerleaders who traveled to Florida to cheer in a college bowl game. These days, she travels around New York, training practitioners to use medical software.
“I’m excited to have a team on the floor at Nationals. It’s awesome,” said Allen. “Some of these girls have never flown before or been to Disney World, so this is a whole collection of firsts. Getting to share that is awesome, and we want to try and win, too.”
For a cheerleading team to qualify for Nationals, it must compete at Regionals. BKW’s Regional was in Long Island on Dec. 8, but the team had a conflict –– a pep rally the night before –– so it could not attend. Allen knew of this conflict ahead, attending conferences to ask what other routes BKW could take to get a national bid.
“We arranged for someone to come up and privately evaluate us,” Allen said. BKW showed the person stunts, cheers, dances, jumps, and all different types of skills. The evaluator took videos back to judges, who scored on what the Bulldogs did.
Cheerleading is judged on multiple entities: motion, sharpness, and placement; dance, footwork, and transitions; solid stunts, difficulty in creative ways; jumps.
“Cheers need to be appealing so the crowd yells back at you,” Allen said. “We threw our stuff together pretty quick, so that was impressive.”
BKW got together in November when most other squads in the nation had been cheering since August.
“We’ve been progressing really quickly,” said senior Jess Sawyer. “We’ve had a month.”
The cheerleaders haven’t accomplished all of this alone. The school, the board, and the community have been very supportive, Allen said. BKW needs to raise $7,000 and send in another videotape by Jan. 9.
The squad is hosting a pancake breakfast at the Knox firehouse this Sunday at 8 a.m. The team also has coin drops in Altamont, donation jars in numerous spots, and is planning on hosting an alumni and alumnae basketball game on Jan. 5.
“It’s hard to raise $7,000 in a month,” said Allen, sounding semi-confident. “I think a lot of people held back until we definitely qualified. I always knew we could get the bid because we worked so hard.”
A majority of the squad has been cheering since they were little. It has become a regular part of their lives, and it keeps them balanced, both literally and figuratively.
“I like getting everyone pumped up and getting reactions from people,” Audino said. “I’m an energetic person, so I like people to be energetic with me.”
“I enjoy getting people involved,” Sawyer added, “and I mean everyone, not just people watching us.”
Audino said that games would be “boring” without cheerleaders. Allen is just grateful to have the crowd respond because BKW probably wouldn’t be attending Nationals without the community’s long-lasting and enthusiastic support.
Allen tried to put her joy into words.
“The biggest thing is pride,” she said. “As a graduate of this school, I always had pride. To see these girls care as much as I do, and to see how much they make other people care, I’m so unbelievably proud.”