The members of the Ward Melville High School Junior Varsity Cheerleading Squad are used to spending long hours together after school each day for practice.
But on Friday evening, instead of gathering in the gymnasium, they’ll be at the airport, getting ready to board a flight to Florida for the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National High School Cheerleading Competition.
The 24-member squad is the only JV team from Long Island to get invited to this year’s national competition, said JV cheerleading coach Meghan Barnett.
The competition will take place this weekend in Orlando, and 15 varsity squads from Long Island were also invited. The following Long Island schools are scheduled to compete in the varsity cheerleading competition: Bethpage High School, Connetquot High School, East Meadow High School, Freeport High School, Hauppauge High School, MacArthur High School, Mount Sinai High School, Plainedge High School, Rocky Point High School, Sachem high schools east and north, Sayville High School, Smithtown high schools east and west, and West Babylon High School.
Barnett said this is the first year the Ward Melville Cheerleading program competed throughout the year. In prior years, both the JV and varsity squads only performed at school sporting events. It is Barnett’s first year as JV coach at Ward Melville High School in Setauket; she was the cheerleading coach at R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook for the previous two years.
“It’s been a long journey pulling this off,” she said, adding that the squad managed to raise the $9,000 needed to attend nationals in about a month. “The girls have so much pride and they are so happy about nationals because they are looking for that recognition from the community.”
Briana Poncini, 16, of South Setauket, is one of the squad's captains this year. She said compared to last year, the level of dedication shown on the squad is much higher.
"This year everyone really wants it," she said about doing well at nationals. "We've all worked so hard to get here."
She said working up to this weekend's competition, the squad has been having three-hour practices to perfect their routine. She said everyone is eager to get to Florida and show off their hard work.
"We knew we had to work this hard if we wanted to go," she said. "I can't believe we did it, though. I'm still in shock."
The members of the Ward Melville High School Junior Varsity Cheerleading Squad practice Thursday. On Friday, the squad will head to Florida for the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National High School Cheerleading Competition. (Feb. 10, 2011)