By Celia McGuckian
Lewiston High School’s gym rocked with capacity crowds all day Saturday, March 24 as teams of cheerleaders from the very young to junior high school competed in the 11th Annual Maine Cheer Classic Invitational.
But the greatest excitement and loudest applause came at the very end when the LHS Cheerleaders, fresh from their triumphant, first-place finish at the New England Regional Championships the week before, made a special appearance.
Their win marked the first time ever that a Maine high school had beaten teams from all over New England to take the top prize in the highly competitive event.
As the 22 members of the championship team lined up on the mats Saturday and were officially recognized by the Maine Youth Cheer Coaches Association and the Maine Cheer Coaches Association for their tremendous achievement, the crowd roared and jumped to its feet.
Earlier—and away from the happy bedlam—the team’s coach, Lynnette Morency, explained the long and sustained effort the team put on to reach the top.
“This journey really began four years back,” said Morency. “That’s when we first went to the New England Championships and placed seventh. We came home, talked about what we needed to do better and worked on that. The next year we placed fourth. The year after that we placed second. This year it all came together. All the sacrifices, practices, competitions, courage and hard work paid off and we won!”
It was that grit and persistence that caught the attention of Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald. In remarks at a school assembly held last week to honor the team, Macdonald praised the squad and held them up as a shining example, not only for fellow students but for everyone.
“These girls represent something really positive,” he said. “They represent a spirit that we should copy!”
Macdonald said he admired the team particularly because the girls had not let early disappointments discourage them from trying again and again.
“It’s tough to work very hard yet miss the goal,” said Macdonald. “These girls just kept at it. They had a vision and they were determined to see it through. I like that spirit. I’d like this to be the face of the new Lewiston. They achieved their vision through hard work, and we’ll achieve our vision for the city through hard work.”
And hard work it is.
Lewiston High School has four cheerleading teams; three teams, called support teams, cheer for team sports like football, hockey, basketball and soccer. The fourth is the competitive team. To be on the competition cheer team, each girl has to also be on a cheerleading support team.
The cheerleaders attend all the meets for whichever sport they cheer for, as well as fit in three to five two-hour practices a week for the competition team, plus one hour of tumbling/gymnastics class per week.
In addition, the girls have to remain academically eligible: they must keep up with all their course requirements and must pass all of their classes. “I have some of these girls in my classes and that helps me keep up with them,” said Jennifer Roy, one of the assistant coaches who also teaches AP Biology and Anatomy at the high school. “Actually, we watch out for all the girls and work with them and their parents to help ensure they don’t let their academic work slip.”
Morency echoed the importance of keeping up academically. “If one of the cheer athletes slips below the standard, that’s it for her for the season,” she said. “But thankfully, in the five years I’ve done this I have yet to lose an athlete because of grades. In fact, we usually have at least one or two who place in the top 10 percent of the class.”
The team has three captains—all seniors—Krista Thomas, Tiana Lacombe and Shae Godbout. Of the 22 members, only six were seniors. About 10 of the underclassmen were first-time members of the team.
While that presented a challenge getting everyone to function as a well-synchronized unit, the girls worked hard to help each other. In addition, many of them had been involved in cheering for years, some having started as young as age three.
“We are so lucky to have an amazing Rec Department team here,” said Patti Regner, one of the parents and a member of the Boosters. “The LAYCL—the Lewiston Area Youth Cheering League—is an excellent feeder program. Fourteen of the 22 girls on the team came from an LAYCL background.”
Both Lisa Boulley, the president of the LHS Cheer Boosters, and Sandy Beauchesne, the vice president, expressed gratitude for the support of the community at large. “We are extremely grateful for the help and support of so many in the community because that helps us ensure that the girls can focus on what they need to do,” said Boulley.
“Particularly the support of businesses like Gridiron and the Lewiston Area Youth Fund Bingo,” said Beauchesne. “They’ve been great.”
They also said that the parents’ involvement and support have contributed in many ways to the team’s success.
Kelly Thibeault, one of the parents who was volunteering with her husband at the concession stand and whose daughter is a freshman on the competition cheer team, said she doesn’t mind spending time helping out. She sees how their daughter has benefited from being on the team.
“She’s grown so much,” said Thibeault. “She’s positive; she’s confident. It is hard, but it’s worth it. And Lynnette is so good at having them work as a team.”
For the seniors on the team, there was a strong realization that this was their last year, their last chance to reach their goal ,and that helped fuel their efforts. As Godbout put it, “Dream big and go for it!”