BANGOR, Maine — For Downeast cheerleading squads Calais and Machias, eight was enough, but for Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and Dexter, there was strength in numbers at Saturday morning’s Class C and D regional championship competitions.
While Calais and Machias proved you don’t have to be a large team to score big points, the Central Aroostook Panthers and Dexter Tigers showed at the Bangor Auditorium it can certainly help.
The Dexter girls won the their first East C cheering crown with a blend of lifts, aerials and stunts that energized the crowd and gave them a score of 120.9, good for a 2.2-point margin over Calais, a team whose roster was half the size of Dexter’s.
The top six teams qualified to compete in the Feb. 7 state championships, so Sumner of East Sullivan (115.9 points), Orono (113), Houlton (112.5) and Narraguagus of Harrington (100.9) also earned return trips to the Auditorium.
In Class D, Central Aroostook made it look relatively easy as the Panthers cruised to their seventh overall regional title and second straight with a 20.1-point victory over Machias. The Panthers didn’t have the same numerical superiority as Dexter, but it was more than enough.
With Class D being a combined East-West regional, eight teams move on to states. Those teams are CAHS, Machias, Woodland, Rangeley, Buckfield, Deer Isle-Stonington, Jonesport-Beals and Fort Fairfield.
With 11 total team members and only five of them returnees from last season’s title team, the Panthers weren’t exactly a prohibitive favorite.
“We only had five returning from last season’s team, but the new ones filled in really well,” said 11-year head coach Sami Jo Allen. “I think they started all getting on the same page just two weeks into the season. They just knew what they wanted to do.”
So did the Dexter Tigers, who finished second in the Penobscot Valley Conference Small School meet and had grown tired of coming away from these meets with either a runner-up plaque or nothing to show for the trip.
“This makes it all worthwhile. We didn’t even have a banner for the sport in the gym before now,” said Andrew Lockhart, one of only two seniors on the team.
The other, fellow varsity football player Cameron Doncet Hall, is winding up his first year on the squad after being recruited and lobbied continuously by Lockhart to try it.
“My girlfriend’s on the squad, too, and I went to see them compete last year and saw how much fun they seemed to be having,” Hall said. “I would have done it sooner if I’d known.”
The addition of Hall gave the Tigers three males on the team, and a lot more flexibility and punch when it comes to its ability to execute stunts.
“The biggest thing is we started with 20 people and we still have 20,” said seventh-year head coach Anne Miller. “But with the three guys, our fourth stunt group has a freshman who wanted to be as good as the three groups with boys in them, and she did. Now they are just as strong as the other three.”
Not that Calais coach Heidi Ryan-Braughton can relate to those kinds of problems.
“I’ve always had at least 15 people on the squad, but with eight, we were much more limited,” she said. “We only had one flyer, so we just did what we could do.
“I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t know if we could compete with the bigger teams, which can be much more impressive on the floor.”
Ryan-Braughton said having a small squad wasn’t all bad.
“I’ve found with a smaller group, it’s easier to be clean, so there are some advantages,” she said.
For Central Aroostook’s Panthers, the biggest advantage may have been experience, despite the loss of seven members of the 2008 state title team.
“My sister was on the 2002 state championship team and we didn’t win again until last year, so we knew we had to work even harder to get back and we kept working even after the season stopped,” said Rachael Donahue, the Panthers’ lone senior. “We went to New Englands and went to Massachusetts for a gymnastics camp. I think all the extra work made up for the people we lost.”
It didn’t hurt that the Panthers’ routine was jammed with lifts, aerials, stunts, tumbling routines and energy.
“We wanted to be sure we had solid stunts and we had a double twist that we didn’t see anyone else here do today,” Donahue said.
Central Aroostook’s team members are Mariah Brewer, Kayla Demoura, Kyle Donahue, Rachael Donahue, Patricia Donovan, Rachel Donovan, Whitney Klein, Sarah Michaud, Mosher, Keri Pelletier, and Kellie Stitham.
Dexter’s squad includes Taylor Blais, Danielle Burton, Veronica Clark, Lisa Conway, Jacqueline Correa, Chelsea Crane, Jeremy Davis, Hall, Amanda Faulkingham, Olivia Gardner, Brandi Gould, Lockhart, Chelsea Lougee, Alexis Mitchell, Danielle Mower, Kirstie Mower, Megan Mower, Whitney Mower, Ashley Wallace and Tamara Wallace.