In a tense day of competition, the General Douglas MacArthur High School varsity cheer team edged defending champion Freeport High School by less than half a point to take first place in the Nassau County Division I small school competition at Hofstra University on Feb. 24.
“They had so much talent this year that it was too good to go to waste,” the MacArthur squad’s assistant coach, Shannon Pratt, said. “They really tried. They pushed for it.”
MacArthur’s win was its first championship in cheerleading. In addition to Freeport, the other competing schools in the division were, Baldwin, Hewlett, Long Beach, Oceanside and Syosset.
MacArthur Head Coach Jacqueline Day said the team peaked at the right time, before the Universal Cheerleaders Association national competition in Orlando, Fla., in early February. There the squad placed third out of 35 teams in the medium D2 division. “A couple weeks before nationals, something just clicked, and they started working really well together,” Day said. “When they got down to nationals, they hit all three rounds — prelims, semis and finals. They continued it to counties.”
The team finished 10th in its division at the state championships earlier this month in Rochester. Team members and coaches were disappointed, Day said, but, she added, “Overall, they had an amazing season doing things they had never done before. . . . This team was truly a family this year, and we’re going to miss our seniors.”
The MacArthur team comprises 18 cheerleaders — four “flyers,” four “backs,” eight “bases” and two alternates. Kayla Lesak, one of the flyers, shared some insight into how their role is unique. Most audience members at cheer competitions, she said, don’t know as much about the sport as the participants. “If something were to happen — say I fall at a competition — I feel like all the blame would come to me,” she said. “But from the coaches’ point of view, or judges’ point of view, I don’t think it’s that much different, because we all have a job to do.”
Karena Checco, a senior, said that Freeport was a good team to compete against throughout the season. “We were ecstatic when we won, because we weren’t expecting it, and they were the reigning champs from last year,” she said. “[Beating them] was really one of the best moments we had this whole season.”
Junior Gianna Tannazzo said she considered it a privilege to be a member of the MacArthur team. Teammate Kelly Cook agreed. “I remember being a little girl, always wanting to be on the MacArthur varsity cheer team,” the senior said with a smile.