TRENTON: Cheer teams battle for regional title

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
TRENTON — Cheerleading teams from Central Jersey competed in the Pop Warner Eastern Championship at the Sun National Bank Arena on Oct. 12.
   ”My favorite part of the day is watching our teams perform and greeting each team as they come back for completing their routines,” said JoAnn Campsiano, South Brunswick PAL Cheer Coordinator. “There are some hold your breath moments as the girls perform difficult tumbling moves and stunts, but when they stick each one, I just feel so proud the hard work has paid off. The girls are always so excited as they come off the floor nothing beats that feeling.”
   Cheerleading was officially recognized in the 1970’s, but has been a part of the Pop Warner program for several decades.
   The first National Cheerleading competition was held in DeKalb County, Georgia.
   Today, 160,000 children are participating in cheerleading and dance around the United States, according to the Central Jersey Pop Warner website.
   The Junior Pee Wee and Pee Wee division Regionals will be held at the Sun Bank National Arena on the Nov. 9 and 10.
   Junior Midgets and Midget and Dance will perform in Albany, New York on Nov. 16 -17.
   From there, they will move on to compete at Nationals which is held at the Disney’s Wide World of Sports™ Complex on Dec. 6-15.
   ”The teams that move are based on how many are in each division,” said Peggy Custode, third Vice president of Central Jersey Pop Warner and vice president of Cheer. “For example, if there are two they both move on three, four then two move on, five or more three move on.”
   Ms. Custode started 27 years ago as a team mom.
   Cheer was reintroduced to the Hightstown/East Windsor Area in 2003.
   This year the Hightstown Rams had three teams, Mitey Mites, Junior Pee Wee and Midgets, which has a total of around 60 girls enrolled in the program.
   Jennifer Havens and Gina Leaver are the Cheer Coordinators.
   ”There is nothing like a Pop Warner Cheer Competition,” said Ms. Havens. “The excitement and adrenaline that you feel on this day can never be duplicated.”
   Both of the Hightstown competition teams advanced to Regionals. The Junior Pee Wee team placed third and its Midgets won first place.
   ”Both of these levels of cheer have advanced to Regionals and Nationals in past years,” Ms. Havens said. “The girls were simply amazing. I couldn’t have been prouder of all three teams that performed.”
   The Monroe Wolverines are comprised of 230 cheerleaders in its program. It has eight cheer teams ranging in ages of three to 15 years old.
   ”The Junior Pee Wee competed at Level 2 large division and did a great job at Central Jersey,” said Mary Lange, Cheer Director of the Monroe Wolverines. “Pee Wee competed at Level 4 Large, which is the highest division you can compete at is advancing. Junior Midgets and Midgets are both competing at level 4. These two teams are advancing to Regionals on Nov. 16 for Jr. Midgets and Nov. 17 for the Midgets who both competition are in Albany, New York.”
   All level 4 teams will advance to the National Competition in December.
   ”I’m very proud of all the Monroe teams that absolutely stole the show in Trenton this weekend from the Tiny Mites to the Midgets,” Ms. Lange said. “Monroe definitely steals the show. I know that some people from other towns mark their performance schedules to see when Monroe is performing. It’s something they don’t want to miss. The arena gets very quiet when Monroe hits the floor. The crowd reaction is overwhelming.”
   For Ms. Lange, the competition was also on her birthday, and the entire arena wished her a happy birthday.
   ”We like to think we are teaching the girls more than just cheer,” Ms. Lange said. “We don’t have tryouts. Everyone on the team is important. Everyone contributes. The girls feel that their team is their ‘other’ family and they can count on each other. They have sisters on the other teams. All the while, having fun.”
   The Millstone cheer team has a total of 54 girls participating this year. It’s Junior Pee Wee, level 2 medium, has 16 girls on the squad and its Junior Midget, level 3 medium, and has 22 girls.
   ”Millstone has historically always moved on to Regionals and many times even moved on to Nationals,” said Sharon Peake, one of the Cheer Coordinators.
   Millstone will be doing just that with its two competing cheer teams.
   It’s Junior PeeWee and Junior Midget both came in first place on Saturday and both were named Central Jersey Champions, according to Ms. Peake.
   ”We are so incredibly proud of our Jr. Pee Wee team for moving up to level 2 this year,” Ms. Peake said. “They went to Nationals last year as a level 1 team and did very well. They placed 2nd in the Nation. According to Ms. Peake, the team was “challenged” by their own team to do more and “increase their skills.”
   Despite some “technical difficulties” with their music not playing as planned, they got to begin their performance again, and went on to win.
   ”They recovered nicely and performed like champions,” Ms. Peake said. “They are preparing for each step on this journey in the hopes of grabbing that National Title.”
   The Allentown Redbird cheer program has three teams, which are comprised of 46 cheerleaders. Its youngest team is the Flag cheerleaders, which is consist of 13 girls.
   ”Our Junior Pee Wee team is comprised of 15 girls, 13 of which competed for the first time ever on Saturday,” said Bernadette Nolan, Cheer Coordinator of the Allentown Redbirds cheer program, in an email on Oct. 14.
   The Junior PeeWee team competed in what can be considered the “most crowded division of the day”, JPW Medium Level 1, and won first place, according to Ms. Nolan.
   ”Despite it being the first ever competition for most of the team, they were judged to be the best of the division, which saw seven teams compete. I couldn’t be more proud of our Junior Pee Team,” Ms. Nolan said. “That division is a tough one because it’s the place where most teams compete for the first time, so teams there with experience can have an advantage over newer/younger teams in the division. It’s hard for the girls to know what to expect until they’ve gone through it for the first time, which is why it’s unusual to win right out of the gate.”
   According to Ms. Nolan, this is only the second time in the history of its Pop Warner program that a team has won on its first try.
   ”We’ve had a number of very talented teams here that have competed at Nationals. It’s very hard to do,” she said. “The only other team in our program’s history to win on its first try happens to be this year’s Pee Wee team, two years ago.”
   The South Brunswick PAL cheer program had four teams this year – Tiny Mites (ages five to six), Mitey Mites (ages seven to eight), Junior Pee Wees (ages eight to nine) and Pee Wees (ages 9-12). There are 49 girls who participate in the program.
   ”The Tiny Mite and Mitey Mite levels participate in a non-competitive event in which they have the opportunity to perform in front of the fans and judges,” Ms. Campsiano said. “The Junior Pee Wee and Pee Wee teams do compete for an opportunity to move on to a Regional and eventually a National competition,” Ms. Campsiano said.
   ”Although our competitive teams did not move on to the next level, the coaches as well as myself are so proud their efforts,” Ms. Campsiano said. “Our scores are continuing to improve each year and we are working toward our goal of making it to the regional competition next year.
   Ms. Campsiano attributes the teams success to the “dedication of our coaches and the support of our parents.”
   ”This year they purchased hair that lit up so the girls could spot them in the audience,” Ms. Campsiano said. “The competition experience is so exciting for the cheerleaders.”
   Ms. Campsiano said. “In addition to competing themselves, they have a chance to cheer for their sister teams from South Brunswick and watch other teams perform. It is a fun day for everyone.”
   The next stop for the girls is the NJ State Championship Nov. 3 at the Sun Bank National Arena.