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Cheerleading: In this arena, cheerleaders are cheered

Smithtown East High School, where the cheerleaders were cheered, was for the most part an awfully cheerful place.

The second Suffolk County cheerleading competition of the season was like a dance party (DJs and music included), the competitive edition.

Competitive cheerleading, in its fourth season as an officially sanctioned sport by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, took on a more competitive character ever since it received that designation. The Suffolk County Cheerleading Coaches Association lists 39 varsity teams in six divisions.

Amanda Bardsley, a junior in her third season on the Southold team, has noticed more teams and stiffer competition. “Everyone’s skills are advancing each year,” she said.

Those skills were on exhibit Saturday as cheerleading teams each had 2 minutes and 30 seconds to try to catch the eyes of six judges with their cheering, stunts, jumps and tumbling.

Shoreham-Wading River and Southold both competed in Small Division 2.

SWR, which did not have a team last season, has only three cheerleaders with previous experience — captains Kylee Fischer, Gianna Tambasco and Olivia Daleo.

“I thought we did really amazing,” said Tambasco, a junior.

After all the teams performed, there was a break while the teams waited on a blue mat on the gym floor to hear results announced. Only the top three finishers were announced: first-place Hauppauge, runner-up East Islip and Sayville. The point totals — and places for the other teams — were not immediately revealed.

Hauppauge won the first county competition as well Dec. 8 in West Babylon with a score of 84.5. In that competition, SWR finished fifth with a 64.4 and Southold was seventh with a 55.6.

Using the eye test, SWR coach Brie Carlen said she was happy with what she saw from the Wildcats Saturday.

“They executed really well today,” she said. “We just keep on progressing.”

One didn’t need to be a body-language expert, however, to tell that the Southold cheerleaders weren’t exactly thrilled with their performance.

“It wasn’t our best,” Bardsley said. “We’re definitely capable of a lot better.”

She continued: “This competition does not define us. You never know. You could have a perfect warmup and go out there and mess up.”

Southold’s senior captain, Sabrina Basel, in her fourth season on the team, said: “I think we all have that urge to work hard and do better. I think it’s going to motivate us.”

Southold coach Alissa Fragoletti, a former dancer, said she wants her 10-member team to raise the difficulty of their stunts. “There’s a mix of range” on the team, she said. “There’s a lot of girls on the team who have experience, they know their tumbling and stunts. They put a lot into it.”

Basel also plays for the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team. Cheerleading, though, is a different animal.

“Everyone has to be there a hundred percent,” she said. “You can’t sub in, you can’t sub out.”

Before heading onto the mat for their routine, the First Settlers huddled together and tried to pump each other up. Nerves, undoubtedly, were felt.

Bardsley said, “If you’re not nervous, there’s something wrong with you.”

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Photo caption: Southold cheerleaders performing their routine in a Suffolk County competition Saturday at Smithtown East High School. (Credit: Bob Liepa)