Dancing and cheering is how 10-year-old Shayla Garcia spent Saturday afternoon, as she practiced her favorite pastime -- cheerleading.
The elementary school student joined more than 130 girls, ages 5 to 13, at a cheerleading clinic at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket.
“I like the moves and cheers,” said Garcia, of Longwood.
Ward Melville High School varsity cheerleader Ashlee Bucco, 16, of East Setauket, said teaching the students about cheerleading while they are young helps them know more before they try out for a squad when they are older.
Bucco began cheerleading when she was in second grade and now teaches at the clinic.
“I think it’s very helpful,” said Bucco, whose three sisters attend the clinic.
Her 14-year-old sister is interested in becoming a cheerleader.
“I feel like I helped her, and now she knows what she needs to make the team,” Bucco said.
The cheerleading clinic also helps the high school’s cheerleading program by raising money to keep it running.
Loren Quitoni, varsity cheerleading coach and organizer of the cheerleading clinic, is doing her best to get the cheerleading squad widely recognized.
“We are making big strides,” Quitoni said.
She hopes this year the state will recognize cheerleading as a sport so the program can subsequently receive funding.
The high school’s cheerleading squad, which has a varsity and junior varsity team, is certainly getting recognition as the JV cheerleaders went on to the national competition this year for the first time. The 24-member squad was the only JV team from Long Island to get invited to the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National High School Cheerleading Competition in Florida.
“We are trying to push competition,” said junior varsity coach Meghan Barnett.
Wearing the 2011 competition T-shirt, Barnett says she loves these clinics because she sees the sparks in some girls’ eyes who dream of becoming a cheerleader and going to the national competition.
“Having all these girls here shows the community support,” said Barnett.
Rachael Rodomista, 13, of Stony Brook, takes part in a cheerleading clinic held at Ward Melville High School. (March 19, 2011)