Schenectady-Belmont cheerleaders raise money to compete in the national championship

SCHENECTADY — The Mont Pleasant Middle School gymnasium echoed with rhythmic counting and foot stomping Monday as a nine-member Schenectady-Belmont PopWarner cheer team began its final practices before competing for a national championship in a few weeks.

It was another successful season for the PeeWee 9-12 cheerleading team, who won their local tournament at Schenectady High School about two months ago, earning them a berth in the New Jersey regional tournament on last week, where they once again swept the competition to win. an invitation to the national tournament in Orlando, Florida starting on December 2nd.

“I haven’t cried all season,” Schenectady-Belmont cheer coordinator and team coach Emoni Raysor said, reflecting on the big regional win. “That was the first time I cried because they really came out as a team.”

Like any team, the PopWarner cheerleaders faced their share of ups and downs throughout the months-long season that began in August and saw the team, made up of a mix of first-time cheerleaders and members who returned between the ages of 9 and 13. practicing three days a week during the school year and four days during the summer.

But the team persevered as they pushed themselves and their coaches to take things to the next level, according to Raysor, an English teacher at Schenectady High School who was involved in the growing program. Interviewed while the team practiced on Monday, Raysor highlighted how the team has worked throughout the season.

“They really pushed me as a coach,” Raysor said. “They wanted to do more elite stuff, and I always said, ‘I don’t know about that,’ but every practice they said, ‘We can try again.’ It’s a very determined group of kids.”

But before traveling to Orlando to try for a national title, the team has one final hurdle to clear: raising $10,000 needed to cover travel and hotel accommodations.

A GoFundMe account launched earlier this month has raised just over $1,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Schenectady-Belmont PopWarner faced similar circumstances last year. After a successful season in which three cheer squads and the 10U football team earned a spot in the national tournament, the organization struggled to raise the combined $60,000 needed to cover travel expenses just days before Thanksgiving.

When it looked like the teams would have to pass on their shot at a national title, the community came together, donating nearly $100,000 the program used to cover the cost of travel and purchase all new uniforms and equipment for the more than 200 participants this year. year. , according to Billy Kent, president of Schenectady-Belmont PopWarner.

Kent hopes the community will rally around the organization again. He hopes it will continue to grow and eventually be free for all participants if enough funds can be raised. Interest in the show has grown since it returned from a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2021, according to Kent. He said 30 more kids have signed up for the program this season, and the number of volunteers and coaches has also grown.

“I think as long as we continue in the direction we’ve been going, I think we’ll end up where we want to be,” he said.

This year marks the third consecutive PopWarner season that Schenectady-Belmont has had a nationally qualified cheer team, dating back to 2019. There was no season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For 13-year-old Faith Conti, who has been part of the cheer program since 2018, cheer has meant more than competing, though she was excited when she talked about how this will be her second trip to Orlando for compete for the national championship. title His first came in 2019.

Conti said the show is where she’s met most of her friends, noting how everyone put aside their differences throughout the season to come together as a team. She hopes for a championship before entering high school next year, where she plans to continue cheerleading.

“It’s been exciting and stressful,” Conti said. “This is my last year, everyone will be back next year, but me because I will be in high school. This year is what matters most to me. It’s exciting that we’re going to nationals, but it’s also scary.”

Kent said the program’s 12U, 10U and 8U soccer teams just missed out on qualifying for this year’s tournament, but noted that the 10U team — made up of 9- and 10-year-olds years old — will compete in the finals of the tournament. Empire State Championship vs. West Genesee in Syracuse.

“I think the impact is huge for our kids and our community just because of the exposure we’re getting,” Raysor said. “We’re not just getting exposure here locally. We went to Jersey and now we’re going to Florida, and sometimes kids don’t have that opportunity, per se, and I think with a sports program you do have that opportunity.”

For 12-year-old Jenae Raysor, who has been part of the PopWarner program since 2018 and will attend her second national championship if funds can be raised, participating in the program has meant more than just a chance to compete.

“It kind of keeps me consistent,” he said. “There are a lot of different opportunities coming up.”

To donate to the Schenectady-Belmont PopWarner PeeWee cheer fundraiser, visit: https://bit.ly/3E9AVf1.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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