Rocky Hill seniors (L-R) Madison Hanna, Alexandra Podgorska, Grace Triblets, Sophia Buonanno have helped nagivate Terriers cheer through 2020's restrictions
Every high school sport in Connecticut has officially been impacted by COVID-19 and now cheerleading has been affected twice by the pandemic.
Cheerleading is held during both the fall and winter sports season, with teams performing at football games in the fall and at basketball game in the spring, which is also the season when cheer competitions are held.
“We’ve always looked at our team as a family and we were missing that this year. We were always there for each other and honestly they are all my best friends,” said Rocky Hill senior cheerleader Sophia Buonanno.
Rocky Hill is among the many cheer squads in the state that are awaiting a decision by the state of Connecticut and the CIAC on whether to begin an already delayed winter sports season.
A decision is set to be made in the week’s leading up to January 19, which would be the date that winter sports could start practicing.
Fall’s restrictions deeply impacted cheerleading, which is often overlooked but is one of the most difficult and challenging sports. The cancellation of the football season, combined with the harsh restrictions placed on cheer, made fall’s season nearly unrecognizable.
Restrictions eliminated stunting, taking away individual and group stunts that are normally performed.
“We tried really, really hard as a team to change our restrictions. We talked to the higher-ups to please let us do something. We will wear masks, we’ll be outside, we’ll do anything,” recalled Rocky Hill senior Grace Triblets, “We saw the other sports that were practicing every day. They were allowed to do things that we weren’t, so it didn’t seem very logical. We would have done anything to be able to have this year.”
Senior captain Anela Korkutovic added, “I was really sad with the way cheer ended up panning out this year. The lack of stunting put a damper on the season because it prevented us from working to our full potential. We were extremely excited going in to this season. This sport brought a lot of positive energy and joy into my life, and I was sad it wouldn’t be able to have that same full effect. Nonetheless, a limited season with my favorite people is still better than no season at all.”
Rocky Hill had 11 seniors that navigated through an unprecedented fall season, which was also cut short by the school’s own COVID concerns, forcing RHHS into temporary on-line-only learning for a couple of weeks in early November.
Even if a winter season is held, it will again hinder the team’s ability to bond and compete at the highest level.
“During football we’re kind of doing our own thing but during winter we normally have team dinners and we really come together as a team,” said senior captain Alexandra Podgorska.
As on now, cheerleading is separated into two risk categories by the state’s Department of Health. Sideline cheer is listed as a low-risk activity and competitive cheer has been deemed high-risk. This all but assures that a competitive cheer season will not be held, but leaves open the possibility of cheering at basketball games at some point this winter.
“There was a lot of restrictions. It’s basically just cheers, jumps, tumbling, and conditioning,” said Buonanno, who plans to cheer in college as she pursues a degree in Exercise Science, “Stunting is a really big part of building us as a team because you need to be able to trust everyone that you’re stunting with. It’s kind of hard to build the same relationships without it and to be honest it took a good amount of the fun out of it.”
As much as the girls enjoy cheering for the football and basketball teams, the real competition is done towards the end of winter season when the conference and state cheering competitions are held.
“The competition is really the highlight of what we do and that’s why we are here. We’re not just here to cheer people on, we are our own sport,” stated Triblets.
“During the game we’re kind of pushed off to the side, not front and center, which is okay because a lot of girls may not be confident and use that time to work on what they can without having to worry about everyone’s eyes on them,” added senior captain Madison Hanna, “It’s different during competition season.”
Despite a less than ideal senior year, the squad has accomplished plenty over the previous three years.
As freshman, they joined a cheer squad that helped make history with the Terriers football team, who advanced all the way to the state championship. The girls were able to perform in front of several hundred fans at Willow Brook Park in New Britain during the Class S championship football game.
“As much as I love comp, it’s so stressful sometimes so I think I prefer football only because the school spirt that we had,” said Podgorska, who wants to continuing cheering in college as she majors in Secondary Education-English, “Freshman year specifically because we were part of the crowd and the crowd joined in with us and made that bond nicer with the cheer team and the school. We got respect.”
The team also won a Central Connecticut North-Conference banner a few years back, which they called the highlight of their time at Rocky Hill.
One of the main aspects missing this year was the ability to mentor the sophomores and freshmen. Under normal circumstances that seniors would take the underclassmen under their wing, passing on the standards and traditions of the program.
“It was just really strange because we didn’t have a lot of time,” said Podgorska, “That relationship between captain and team wasn’t there this year.”
One of the traditions that was lost was the bus rides to and from away games. For the past three years the girls had rocked out to ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson during the rides, a tradition they continued from previous classes. They fear that these traditions may graduate with them.
“It was very different this season. We were separated into three cohorts of eight people and then we were thrown together on our first week of practice and didn’t know some of the people. It was really weird. The only one that could really stay in touch were the ones that we on the team last year together,” recalled Triblets, who will pursue Legal Studies in college.
Hanna, who hopes to go attend University of Central Florida to study Psychology, had some advice for the next generation of Rocky Hill cheerleaders, “Don’t look at it as just an after-school activity. You have to put all of your energy into it. It’s just like every other sport.”
Through thick and thin, the cheerleading class of 2021 has stuck together. It’s a bond that the seniors will share for life.
“I’ve never been a part of a more connected team. We all love each other and have gotten even closer despite the restrictions this year. I think it’s partially due to how much we have to stick together in this sport as a whole,” stated Korkutovic, who will be study Sociology and Communications in college, “We have our differences but at the end of the day these girls are absolutely some of my best friends.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin