Hip, hip, hooray!

Cheerleaders rejoice as their skill becomes an interscholastic sport


Cheerleaders around New York state are celebrating the New York Board of Regents’ decision to make cheerleading an interscholastic sport, effective next winter.

New York joins 34 other states that recognize cheerleading as a competitive sport.

“I’m grateful that New York is recognizing cheerleading as a sport,” said Catie Fontano, a four-year starter on the MacArthur High School squad and its captain for the past two years. “Cheerleading has always been my passion. We work just as hard as other athletes, and it’s good to finally be seen on the same level as other sports.”

Other members of the MacArthur cheerleading team said they couldn’t agree with Fontano more. “I’ve dedicated my entire athletic career to cheerleading, so I’m serious when I say that cheerleading is my life,” said Devin Tirado, a nationally ranked cheerleader for the past three years. “For cheerleading to become a sport now is awesome. It’s unlike anything else. Everything must be done as a team. If one thing goes wrong or one person is off, everything’s gone. It’s a hard sport, and people underestimate it. I feel now that it’s a sport people will take more seriously.”

MacArthur Coach Lisa Nessler said cheerleading has come a long way in New York — and specifically on Long Island — as many teams in the region have won national titles and placed in the top 10 in the country.

“The coaches have been sending emails to the state Board of Regents, and we’re waiting to hear back from them regarding this transition,” Nessler said. “We respectfully request that the New York state board genuinely considers involving experienced coaches and nationally educated cheerleading professionals in the process of sanctioning this sport.”

Keith Snyder, the director of phys. ed., health and athletics for the Levittown School District, said he has always considered cheerleading a sport, adding that the coaches are state-certified and have the same credentials as the football coaches.

“They attend safety clinics annually,” Snyder said. “The teams perennially make it to the LICCA Long Island Championships,” he added, referring to the Long Island Cheerleading Coaches Association. “The new ruling will have little effect on how we conduct our program here. We’re all curious about how the State Education Department will be implementing this new program.”

Representatives from Wantagh and Seaford high schools shared the excitement over the Board of Regents’ decision, but said it wouldn’t change much in terms of their preparation and routines.

“I’m very excited that we’re being recognized as the athletes we are, but I hope this doesn’t change cheerleading into something that it’s not,” Wantagh varsity Captain Diannajane Delgais said.

Coach Jenna Cucci said that cheerleading has been a huge part of her life as both a coach and an athlete, and she’s glad to see the sport getting the recognition it deserves. “The Wantagh Cheerleaders work 11 months out of the year,” she said. “We take this sport very seriously, and give much of our time to keeping up with the times and growing with the sport. Cheerleading evolves every year, and if you lose dedication for even one second, you fall behind.”

Seaford Coach Lisa Ferrari said she was excited about the decision, calling it a validation of what coaches, cheerleaders and supporters have known all along. “As far as what this means, I feel it will be very interesting to see how our competition season is handled and how they’ll break down the schools,” she said. “The way it has always been done allows us to compete against really amazing schools from Nassau, Suffolk, and Catholic schools, so I guess we’ll wait and see.”