Oyster Bay-East Norwich High School cheerleader Bianca McEvoy stood at the edge of a mat in the middle of the Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School’s gymnasium on Nov. 7, looking focused and determined. Practice was about to end, and McEvoy still needed to stick the pyramid before the clock struck 9 p.m. Taking a deep breath, she nodded at her coach, Chelsea Bressingham, who was beginning to count off the pyramid.
“Five, six, seven, eight,” Bressingham said.
It was time.
McEvoy flung herself toward her teammates, executing a round-off before jumping backward and landing on her back in the arms of the other girls.
Together, the full team of cheerleaders tossed Bianca into the air, where she did a back tuck before her teammates caught her feet above their heads.
The determined look on Bianca’s face quickly transformed to a bright smile. She had stuck the pyramid. It was the last maneuver the Oyster Bay cheerleaders needed to complete before practice wrapped up for the evening.
They are determined to meet a new set of goals at each of their practices as they train to compete in seven co-ed cheerleading competitions this winter. The events will mark the first time in Oyster Bay history that the school’s cheerleaders will compete against other squads. In the past, they have performed only at football and basketball games.
Bressingham said the team would be cheering at fewer basketball games this season, because some competitions will conflict with games. The absence of the cheerleading team during these conflicts were already approved by Kevin Trentowski, director of health, physical education, and athletics for Oyster Bay, she noted.
Bianca said she is excited for the opportunity to cheer in competitions, noting that once the team learns to nail all of its stunts — like the pyramid they hit earlier in the practice — they will succeed when they face other high school teams.
“I think our biggest challenge right now is hitting it right and getting it solid,” Bianca said.
The team look up to Bressingham, a Garden City resident who cheers for Nassau County Community College, to train them to be the best cheerleaders they can be.
“This is the only coach I’ve ever had that’s ever believed in us enough to take us to competition,” said Natalia Velasquez, who has been cheerleading for six years under four different coaches. “She is the only one who has the backbone to push me.”
Bressingham admitted that her practices can be vigorous at times.
Most practices start with 15 minutes of tumbling or jumps, two key skills needed to score well during cheerleading competitions. After that, the they engage in conditioning exercises, that usually include running, stretching, splits, bridges and more tumbling and jumps.
During each two-hour practice the team agrees on a goal that they need to accomplish, like last week’s back tuck pyramid. Bressingham writes the goal on a whiteboard that she leaves at the front of the gymnasium and doesn’t erase it until they complete the goal.
Bressingham explained that setting the goal helps keep the team motivated and encourages productivity at the practices. The coach also carves out time each practice for team building activities for the team to build strong relationships with each other.
In addition to practices run by Bressingham at the Roosevelt Elementary School, the cheerleading team attends classes at Beyond Epic Athletics, a Freeport-based gymnastics center, where they focus on learning new stunts and tumbling.
Training for competitions is hard work, but the team are confident they will take home the gold.
“I think that we’re ready and we can do good if we try enough,” said Abby Beck, one of the Oyster Bay’s cheerleaders.
Her teammate, Elias Gomez, agreed.
The cheerleaders also share fears about preparing for the competition. And training will take a lot of focus and dedication from the team. Seated together on a matt in the gymnasium, some of the girls said that in order to be successful, the team will have to get better at being at practice on time, not missing practices, and not arguing with each other during valuable practice time.
The team will also have to learn new skills to prepare for competition. Bressingham said the team is already working on their twist down skill — when the flier twists her body in a full 360-degree spin on her way down from a stunt. She said the team is also working on their endurance for jumps, explaining that eventually they will put a sequence of four jumps in a row into their competition routine.
At the close of last week’s practice, the team appeared to have a great deal of confidence. “I think we’re all physically and mentally prepared for this,” Elias said.