Gymnastics, cardio and dance: Dallastown cheerleaders look to …

The Dallastown Area School District Varsity Competition Cheerleading Team has qualified to compete in one of the country’s most prestigious competitions in February at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The team has been working for years to reach the nationals in an increasingly competitive sport.

Head coach Erin Miller, a 2003 graduate of Dallastown, began coaching at the school in 2010 at the same time the PIAA made the sport a competitive sport. “It’s crazy to see so much fun practicing at 10 to 12 years old. The skills are more difficult. It’s better to focus on perfection and not on scoring the best skills. as hard as you can,” Miller said.

Adding to the difficulty, Miller said the rival groups have been eliminated, pushing Dallastown into larger groups of schools to compete for the same victory.

“It’s more than getting your team on the line. From the offensive and defensive position, there’s a lot to go into,” added assistant coach Stephanie Bilyeu.

Photo: Dallastown High School Class of 2022

On a dark winter evening before Christmas at Dallastown Area Intermediate school near Jacobus, a group of students began working within the confines of a regulation 42-foot by 54-foot carpet. be happy. An organized lineup hit the mat, kicking off the show, capping off the night with the teamwork and energy that brought Dallastown to life. in the country.

Small groups of all the girls are grouped into larger groups, rehearsing and performing while the teachers record the quick action on their smartphones, using tripods. , and review results with students.

“Basically, this routine is two and a half minutes of cardio sprint and on top of that they have to shout words, they have to score exercise skills, they have to dance and smile while doing that All the athletic stuff. ,” Bilyeu said when asked to describe the whole experience.

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Assistant teacher Toni Lozzi, a 2008 Dallastown graduate, said the success came from investing in children and youth programs in the district as early as elementary school. Those students moved up in their grades and are now competing as high school athletes.

Lozzi thinks the disease also played a role in the current success. “The children, they are young, they are new people in the whole season of COVID where we have not done anything. We had to be covered. I think it made them want a regular season and want more success because they put in the same amount of work and had less opportunities to do it, to compete.

Photo: Dallastown Area High School prom 2022

“They are talented kids who work hard… There is not enough talent, especially in our group in the biggest competition in the province… if things are not good they will put some additional members, they come early, they are late. encourage one another. They don’t just talk about winning, they know what it takes, how much work it takes to get there, which is like a coach’s dream,” he said. said Lozzi, melting into his smile.

“I think the biggest challenge is getting everyone together when it counts,” said Jayla Johnson, who has been working hard in the district’s cheer program for 15 years. “I’m worried, very worried,” he added when asked about the national competition.

“You can hit it a million times in practice and then it’s over,” said Natalie Cottrell, who has been in the program for 11 years.

“It takes a little snap of the finger and it’s devastating for everyone,” added Brenna Wenger, who has only been in the program for six years but has also been a gymnast and dancer, for a total of 16 years of experience. .

“I think we’ll be ready, we just have to spread that fear for good,” said Cottrell, rounding off a practice session less than two months before the national competition.

Cottrell thinks it’s more risky to win a national championship in a sport that has only recently been recognized as a sport and quickly gained strength in competition over the past decade while still struggling with a longstanding image of the only applause for the team on the sidelines. “I just want to leave a good representation in practice because people don’t understand what it is… I want to leave a message: This is what we do and we’re good at it.”

The 2023 UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship will be held in Orlando, Florida Feb. 10-12.

I’ve been capturing life through the lens since 1983, and am currently a photojournalist for the USA Today Network. You can reach me at

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