SYRACUSE, N.Y. — It took quirky superstitions. Muscle memory. “Hundreds” of practice attempts to perfect their routine, Mount Sinai senior Will Gorman said.
“Actually,” senior cheerleader Chloe Shields said, “probably more like thousands.”
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All for this: a place in the history books. With its score of 106.1 in the Co-Ed Division, the Mount Sinai cheerleading team won a championship at the inaugural state tournament at Onondaga Community College Saturday, an honor that the Mustangs will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“Being the first ones to do it, being a part of history, it’s difficult to put into words how special that is,” Gorman said. “When I have kids, if they become cheerleaders, I could point to this and show them that this team was the first one to do it.”
Mount Sinai won a Suffolk championship earlier this year. It won a national title in Orlando in February. But the Mustangs were posed with a new challenge at the state meet: competing twice in the same day. In between placing first in both the preliminary and the final rounds, they had three hours to kill.
“We just hung out, got food, relaxed a little bit. Watched Rocky Point because we’re close with them,” Shields said. “We weren’t thinking about history, really.
“But then it was nerve-wracking, having to do it all over again. Normally, we’re done for the day and can relax. It was a challenge to get back going.”
Cue a second round of quirky superstitions.
“Sometimes people have to take certain photos, we have to hug certain people, there are a lot of different handshakes,” Gorman said with a smile. “The list goes on and on. Someone even has to give the coach a Snapple.”
Added Shields: “I have to punch my coach twice on the arms. We do weird things like that. A lot.”
Playing out superstitions before every performance might play a part in the team’s consistency, sure. But the biggest factor in coach Samantha Melella’s mind? Muscle memory.
“You have all this adrenaline and you have the big arena and tons of people,” Melella said. “So through a lot of repetition, you develop this muscle memory that helps to sort of counteract all of that.”
How does a team acquire it?
“We practice over and over again,” Shields said. “Not just until an individual hits. We do it over and over again until everyone hits every single time. If one person takes a wrong step, we’ll restart. Do it again. Until every person can hit every single time, we won’t leave the mat.”
As much as anything – the history-making achievement, the chance to represent Long Island on the state’s biggest stage – this is what made Saturdayday so special for Shields.
“This is the last time we’re competing together as a group,” she said, “so when you think about how hard we worked together, how we persevered together as a family, that’s the biggest thing in my mind. It makes this incredibly special.”