PITTSFIELD, Maine — It takes gumption to be a cheerleader.
A packed gymnasium, a colorful outfit, a complex routine and the task of manufacturing spirit are all part of a cheerleader’s life, and that was the scene in Pittsfield Saturday where about 60 girls rocked it for hundreds of supporters. After weeks as a side attraction for the local youth football program, on Saturday the cheerleaders became the focus.
First, the teams did their routines facing the audience. The thumping bass of dance music punctuated traditional cheers and acrobatics. The face-painted, ribbon-wearing, perpetually smiling cheerleaders flipped and mixed themselves in formations and choreographed poses. After each routine, the seated teams chanted “We are proud of you, we are proud of you!” which could be heard over the applause of a full gymnasium.
Then they did it all again.
This time each team faced the other cheerleaders, who were seated on a stage in the Warsaw Middle School gymnasium. Jennifer Watrous, who led the creation of the area’s youth cheerleading program four years ago, said it’s important for the cheerleaders to watch one another’s performances.
“The biggest thing for me is their support of each other,” said Watrous. “I have seen so many girls’ self-esteem grow. Half of them, when they started, they wouldn’t even look at me or talk to me. They become very confident by the end, and that’s huge. It makes the girls grow in such a great way.”
Saturday’s event wasn’t a competition, though everyone received a trophy, which Watrous hoped would rekindle memories as the girls, who ranged from first-graders to sixth-graders, grow older.
Watrous is stepping down as the program’s director to focus on other things, such as her three children, a career — and coaching seventh-grade cheerleading. Wendy Thibodeau of Pittsfield will take over the program, which will resume next summer.
Thibodeau said she’s taking over because the program has been valuable for her 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who has been involved in the sport for four years.
“When I took her to cheerleading the first time, I had to go back and get her because she was crying,” said Thibodeau. “She’s just blossomed, and I want the program to be there for some other child. I would hate to see it die.”
Judging by the glowing smiles on the girls’ faces Saturday, there will be plenty of interest.
“I started as a dancer, but I really like cheerleading,” said Savannah Creasy of Pittsfield, a member of the fifth- and sixth-grade team, as she and a dozen teammates prepared for their routine. “It’s a really — oh, excuse me I have to go.”
With that she went from quiet interviewee to boisterous, bouncing, beaming cheerleader.