After the East Meadow High School varsity cheerleading team finished its routine at the National High School Cheerleading Championship at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., in February, members anxiously waited to hear their results.
Once the final score was in, the team permanently etched its name in school history as the first squad to place as high as sixth in the nation in the Super Varsity Division II.
“It was an incredible feeling,” said Tara Shannon, varsity cheerleading coach. “The girls hit perfect routines. It was just the icing on the cake for the girls. It was a boost of confidence for them, and it really set the tone for the competitions.”
The 28-member team is the largest in the cheerleading program’s history. “The team gets larger and stronger each year,” Shannon said. “The size and spirit of the team is a … tribute to the athleticism at the school district.”
Shannon began coaching East Meadow High’s junior varsity squad in 2006, and four years later took over the varsity team. The trip to Disney was her first with the Jets. “And their moms,too,” Shannon said with a laugh. “The parents and the kids all traveled down to Orlando for this milestone together.”
The national competition, sanctioned by the Universal Cheerleading Association, took place Feb. 11-12 and was televised on ESPN and ESPN2 to more than 100 million homes nationwide and 32 countries. The event, which UCA has dubbed the World Series of Cheerleading, also streamed live on Varsity TV on varsity.com.
“When I heard them call our name, it was like all of our hard work and ups and downs through the season paid off,” junior Krystina Centeno said. “I was so happy.”
“As a parent, you always take pride in everything your child does,” said her mother, Shanny Centeno. “Their accomplishments are yours. We all have those moments when we hope we’re doing the best we can as parents. So it’s a great feeling when they succeed.”
Dan Rubbo, whose daughter Cameron (pictured at left) is the first cheerleader who has been on the varsity team from her freshman year to senior year, said that his daughter's accomplishment sets a path for future cheerleaders to follow.
"This represents an important precedent that has been set, hallmarking Cameron's dedication, performance and commitment to the team throughout her high school years," Rubbo said. And it further emphazises the longetivitiy of such a great team achievement for Coach Tara and the entire East Meadow varsity cheerleading team."
After the nationals, the team competed at the Nassau cheerleading championships on Feb. 26. There they continued to make school history, finishing first in Large Varsity Division I.
“I felt like we finally got what we wanted,” Krystina Centeno said. “Last year we were .3 points away from having the county championship title.”
“It was a dream come true,” Shannon said. “We had already traveled to Disney by that point, so I was already so proud of the girls. And when they placed first in the county in their division, I was beyond thrilled and impressed.”
The county title secured the Jets a spot in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Cheer Championships at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. This year’s competition marked the second year that the state recognized competitive cheering as a sanctioned championship sport. The first competition, on March 5, 2016, drew hundreds of teams from all 11 sections of the state to OCC’s 6,500-seat SRC Arena.
“Going up to states was incredible,” Shannon said. “It gave the team a chance to see what other teams from the state had to offer. They were able to see different styles of cheerleading. It was just a fun experience.”
The team placed seventh overall in Large Varsity Division I, continuing their historic streak as the school’s first team to participate at the state competition.
“Knowing that we were going to states in Syracuse was exciting,” Centeno (pictured at right) said. “It was something that no other East Meadow varsity team had the chance to do. We were proud to be the first.”
“These girls are more than just athletes,” her mother added. “Some work jobs, some are involved in more than one sport, and some belong to clubs and honor societies. And they excel in everything they do with the encouragement and support of their coaches, moms and cheer dads. Cheer is a family sport.”
“The coaches were a big part of our success,” Krystina said. “I can’t wait to do even better and get further next year.”
“Krystina’s senior year will be an emotional one for sure,” Shanny concluded.
Although the cheering season has ended, the girls’ success continues to be recognized throughout the district.
“On behalf of the entire East Meadow administration, I’d like to congratulate the members of the East Meadow High School varsity cheerleading team on their outstanding accomplishment in the national competition,” Superintendent Leon Campo said. “They have reached a new level of success, and I’m sure will motivate future generations of young cheerleaders to be dedicated, motivated and aspire to be their best. I’m sure the entire community shares in my pride.”
Shannon said that this year’s historic wins set the bar for teams to come. “It’s funny, because throughout the entire season, I’m their cheerleader,” she said. “I’m encouraging them and telling them to believe in themselves. Sometimes it’s hard for them to believe they’re capable of accomplishing all of these goals when the bar is set so high. They don’t think they can achieve it. But to see their reaction when they achieve their goal, it’s rewarding.”
Rebecca Anderson contributed to this story.