Diotima Roy has relished every opportunity she’s had from cheerleading.
Cheerleading helped the High School North senior transition from another country last year, and this year it’s afforded her the trip of a lifetime.
Roy and her Knights cheer teammates earned a bid to the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championships that will be held at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., in February. They placed seventh in the Game Day Division, while achieving a nationals qualifying score.
“This feels really exciting,” Roy said. “We were so anxious. We were all sitting in a circle holding hands when they were announcing who got a bid and was going to nationals. When they said us, we all took out our Mickey (Mouse) ears and put them on.”
The team consists of Krisha Bagga, Amolika Bharti, Nevaeh Dortch, Julia Gelfand, Amani Harris, Rhea Jadhav, Jade Kocher, Makayla Layne, Kayla McPherson, Roy and Chelsi Yacone.
Mary Beth Kitson is in her sixth year as head coach and Jennifer Pappano is assistant coach. It’s the third straight year that the school has qualified its varsity for nationals.
“We would be disappointed if we didn’t go,” Kitson said. “I think it’s something we strove to do for such a long time, so it’s exciting. We entered a different division so we’d have a chance to go again.”
With so few back from last year’s squad, the Knights had to adjust their outlook. Roy is the only senior on a largely inexperienced North squad, and it’s only her first year on varsity. Only two girls were a part of last year’s nationals qualifier.
“It was a year for rebuilding the team,” Roy said. “And with North not having a varsity football team, the fact that a cheer team exists is an accomplishment for us. We were just happy to have a team after everything that’s gone on.
‘They said to put out our best and have fun. They said not to worry about what others are going to think.’
Roy started cheering last year when her family moved from India. It was a way to get involved with her new school.
“I had very little idea about cheer when I moved here,” Roy said. “My guidance counselor gave me a list of sports to try. Cheerleading seemed fun.”
It made her experience easier. The coaches and the cheerleaders were receptive of the newcomer, and it helped when classes started.
“It was so good to know someone before school started,” Roy said. “The first day of school wasn’t as intimidating as I expected it to be.”
After learning the ropes as a junior varsity cheerleader last year, Roy stepped up to varsity this year. The team had a little more than two full months to come together before they had to compete at regionals in Toms River.
“Since cheer is a contact sport and you’re doing stunts, you have to know your teammates and trust them,” Roy said. “We worked a lot on team building since the summer.”
The team started together at the UCA Pine Forest cheer camp in Greeley, Pennsylvania. Over an intense four days, they started to bond and learn the skills and stunts that they would incorporate into their routine for the Game Day Division, which uses skills that one would see from cheerleaders at a school athletic event. The squad cheered regularly at football games, and supported soccer and volleyball as well, and is cheering for basketball this winter. Their choreographer, Curtis Van Dross of Cheer Tactic, helped them put together a routine that they have been fine-tuning continually.
“We put in a lot of extra time working on motions, working on being synchronized,” Kitson said. “That’s what we continue to work on—making sure our motions are clean. The stunts aren’t as complicated as in past years. We made some decisions based on the experience levels of the girls and what we could accomplish to get the bid.”
The WW-P North squad is smaller than in past years, but they have found a way to compete well despite their decreased numbers. They have been training two hours a day, five days a week since September, and will continue that devotion up to the February competition.
“One of the hardest parts of our routine is the stunts,” Roy said. “Stunting is a skill that develops over time. It was hard to teach stunts to the newer members of the team. Each stunt takes at least four people, so since we’re a small team we can only put up two stunts. When you see large teams, and they have four or five stunts up. That looks better, but we’re doing the best we can.”
That same mentality will be what carries them in Disney. The Knights have gotten advice from last year’s North cheerleaders who competed at nationals.
“They said to put out our best and have fun,” Roy said. “They said not to worry about what others are going to think.”
The Knights have been following that advice all year. They have had a steady learning curve that enabled them to earn a nationals bid.
“It was what I hoped would happen this year,” Kitson said. “There is always that chance we wouldn’t have gotten the bid, and wouldn’t have gotten there. I’m proud of the girls for the work they put in.”
With only Roy graduating, most of the squad could come back next year and they will return confident from this year’s experience and looking for another challenge.
“The other competitions we’ve gone to have sparked that interest,” Kitson said.
WW-P North is practicing daily and regularly organizing fundraisers for its trip. Those efforts keep their goals fresh in their minds, not that any of them could forget what lies ahead.
“I would have been heartbroken if we didn’t make it to nationals,” Roy said. “I’m glad my last year will be so awesome and memorable.”