Do not be fooled by the glitter, ribbons and toothy smiles. The girls and boys competing in the 19th iteration of the Long Island Cheerleading Coaches Association (LICCA) Cheerleading Championship are serious athletes.
Even if the only state to recognize cheerleading as a contact sport is Wisconsin, and competitive cheerleading does not qualify for the federal government's Title IX endowments, the athleticism and treacherous aerial choreography of Long Island's cheerleaders are a sight to behold.
Hosted in Hauppauge High School's gymnasium Saturday, bleachers were filled with supporters from all over the Island. Sixteen schools vied for the medium and large varsity championship titles. Each school was given two and half minutes to perform. Points were either awarded or deducted by judges for technique, errors and crowd participation.
Rocky Point was crowned medium varsity champions for the fourth year in a row. Anna Spallina, Rocky Point's head coach credited her team's victory to their athleticism. "We hit on a lot of difficulty early on," Spallina said. "We made it through two and half minutes of pure hell."
Rocky Point's assistant coach, Lenee Passiglia reiterated the girls' ability under pressure, "They pulled it together and hit." Rocky Point heads to Disney World Friday morning to defend their two year reign as national champions.
Mount Sinai completed a "threepeat," having now won the LICCA for the third year in a row. "I'm without words," head coach Samantha Melella said.
Mount Sinai will join Rocky Point in Orlando to compete in the nationals. In last year's national championship the Devils came in fifth. "This year, it's all about redemption," assistant coach Kara Bochicchio said.
The winners were given black, bedazzled visors (so as not to disturb their coifed hair) that read "LICCA Finals Champions" and trophies that were so enormous they eclipsed some of the girls.
The girls tested their endurance with "Power Fours," an event where three girls supply the foundation and prop up a "flyer", the lightest member of their team, who supports herself with one leg, Karate-Kid style, while loud electro music pounds the gym. Sachem North won the medium varsity bracket with a time of 3:17 and Mount Sinai won the large varsity bracket, lasting 2:36.
In addition to the judged and timed competitions, the teams are awarded in other, non-competitive categories. This year Baldwin and Freeport (for the eighth time) were voted by their peers for the best sportsmanship award. There is an All-Star award where a single girl from each team is selected by their coach and is decorated and honored for their commitment and ability. The LICCA also gives six $1,000 scholarships to seniors.
This was the first year that a maneuver called "inversions" were permitted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA). Inversions are flips in pyramids where the head goes below the waist. Laurie Kolodny, the coach of the Freeport team, said that "inversions bring so much more excitement from the crowd and the kids are excited and they take cheerleading to the next level."
This year's championship took place in the wake of a New York legislative decision to not define cheerleading as a sport. Gail Verne, president of the LICCA was disappointed. "We were 99 percent positive cheerleading would be considered a sport," Verne said. The legal roadblock created what Verne called "a tough year for us, but it has been a mission since 1994 and we are not going to give up."