The Star-Herald

Central Aroostook cheers to County crown

MARS HILL, Maine — Despite pandemic challenges, the Central Aroostook cheer team rose to another victory in the Aroostook County League’s virtual cheering championship with its 2:15-minute filmed routine. 

“This is our second [consecutive] Aroostook League win,” Coach Sami Allen said. “The virtual competition is very nerve-wracking. We can only do it once. Our AD [athletic director] stands in front holding a paper with date, time, password. And then we hoped for the best.”

The Panthers have been a perennial powerhouse in cheering for many years. CAHS has won the state Class D championship for seven consecutive years (2014-2020).

The Central Aroostook squad taped its routine Feb. 27, and with the judging, they just got their league score last weekend. The Panthers beat out squads from Houlton, Presque Isle and Caribou to capture the County crown. The team will now prepare for a virtual state competition.

“We’re ecstatic,” co-coach Janice Lyons said. “It’s incredible to go through what we went through and still come on top. We’re so proud of our kids, they stepped up to the challenge.”

Central Aroostook cheer team won the Aroostook County League virtual championships. The team’s winning performance was filmed on Feb. 27, in the allowable one-take. (Courtesy of Coach Janice Lyons).

COVID-19 limits created multiple obstacles for the team, including new rules and practice hurdles.

According to the league’s pandemic rules, pyramids and cheers were not allowed and the routines had to be filmed in one take. 

To prepare, the Central Aroostook team was slated to start drills and conditioning on Dec. 14, but the high school closed on Dec. 10, due to the pandemic. So, they moved practice up to early January, but by that time, Allen was in quarantine and the school closed again.

“They got to practice with Janice on Jan. 4th and 5th, but after two practices, the school shut down on Jan. 6,” Allen said. “We didn’t come back until Jan. 25.”

Hoping to make-up for some lost time, the coaches held 40-minute Zoom practice sessions for three weeks.

“We worked on conditioning,” Allen said. “They did jumps in living rooms, bedrooms.”

The team’s stunts are more difficult and it was a challenge Allen said, adding that the team is fairly new.

“We lost four seniors and one of the girls didn’t come back,” she said.

Team members are Jenna Rusby, Janelle Tweedie, Amy Gerritsen, Lizzy Hotham, Katie Carvell, Anna Kilcollins, Riley Prince, Delaney McKeen, Madison Howlett and Gracie Bailey.

Still, when it came time to shoot their routine for the competition, the coaches said it’s hard to get motivated without an audience.

“They do so much better with an audience,” Allen said. “We had each kid Facetime and we put the phones on chairs and that’s how we got motivated.” 

In addition to the Aroostook League win, the Central Aroostook team also just won the MAC invitational Competition, Class D.

“It’s the Midcoast Athletic Center competition,” said Lyons. “We celebrated with a pizza party.”

So, now it’s on to the state virtual competition and means honing the routine. The coaches said they are looking at their score sheets and perfecting their Aroostook League entry. The team tapes its state competition routine either March 17 or 18. 

“We are looking at our performance,” the coaches said. “Execution is going to win.”

“We are very proud of the team,” Lyons added.

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