Updated 11:30, Thursday
Last fall, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team took to the field without the support of a cheerleading squad for the first time in decades. Numbers had dwindled over recent years to the point where lack of interest prevented the school from fielding a squad at all.
This fall, when the Vineyarders take the field, Sue Costello and Channon Capra, the newly appointed cheerleading co-coaches, are hopeful that the team will have a squad on the sidelines to cheer them on and generate enthusiasm along the sidelines and in the bleachers.
Ms. Costello and Ms. Capra are already actively recruiting students from among current 8th graders up to and including high school juniors for next year’s football season. They are looking for girls or boys interested in participating in an activity that combines athleticism, gymnastics, and dance with leadership skills and teamwork.
Ms. Capra has been involved in cheerleading since she was a little girl. She thinks that the activity is often misrepresented and underrated.
“We’re trying to change the perception of cheerleading,” Ms. Capra said. “Off Island it’s taken very seriously and treated like a sport with a level of athleticism. They put a lot of time and effort into it. We want to change the mentality of what people think of cheerleading in general.”
Ms. Capra stressed the athletic skill required. “It’s an amazing form of exercise,” said Ms. Capra, “It requires a level of muscular endurance and involves incredible flexibility. There are dance elements and gymnastic elements — a lot of tumbling.”
As with many forms of high school athletics, cheerleading can provide opportunities for students who want to further their education. “They offer scholarships for it,” Ms. Capra said. “Although it’s not classified as a sport in the state of Massachusetts, we would like the kids to feel that there are definite advantages.”
Ms. Capra hopes one day to take part with a Vineyard squad in regional and national cheerleading competitions. “We’re looking to change the program where hopefully the kids can compete and get more recognition so that they have opportunities to earn college scholarships.”
Ms. Capra, physical education teacher for K-8 students at the Edgartown, Chilmark, and West Tisbury Schools, coached high school cheerleading for about 10 years in Dracut and Tyngsborough. She started out her cheerleading career when she was just seven years old.
“I grew up with two brothers who played football for Pop Warner. I wanted to be just like them,” she said. “If I could have played football. I would have. In the 80s there weren’t a lot of opportunities for females to do that and my parents thought it [cheerleading] would be safer for me.”
Her early experience in the Pop Warner system proved to be a very fulfilling. “It turned into a love,” she said, “It was so athletic and I could still be part of the game.”
She went on to participate in all-girl and co-ed squads throughout her high school and college years. She served as team captain for both the Greater Lowell Regional High School and Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
Ms. Capra joined Ms. Costello as co-captain of the Martha’s Vineyard junior high school cheerleading squad three years ago. Ms. Costello has coached that team for five years. In April, the two women were recruited to coach a high school squad, but first they need to find interested participants.
Ms. Capra said there are no tryouts or requirements. Anyone who is interested is welcome to sign up for the program which will begin with a two-week practice period in August.
“We welcome anyone who wants to come out for the team. We’re looking for kids who want to showcase their talents through cheerleading,” said Ms. Capra, “We believe in skill progression. We’ll start out with the basics and build a skill set.
“Together we want our team to be positive leaders and positive role models for the community as well,” said Ms. Capra.
She credits her experience as a cheerleader and squad captain with her decision to pursue a career in education. “It was an easy transition,” she said, “Being captain I always had the leadership role. What I’ve gotten out of it is tremendous leadership skills and appreciation of being part of a team. I gained great self-confidence and self-esteem. It helped me build the skills I have as a teacher today.”
The co-coaches hope to eventually have a full cheerleading program in place — with a squad for basketball as well as football. For now, they’re just trying to reinvigorate interest within the high school community.
“When we got hired we knew we had to hit the ground running,” said Ms. Capra, “We feel that the earlier we get the word out the better chance we have of sparking new interest.”
There will be two informational meetings at the high school today, Thursday, May 23. Interested students and parents can learn more about the program by attending a short session with the co-captains at 3 pm for incoming freshman and 7 pm for freshmen through juniors. There will be another meeting scheduled in June.
For information on the program, call Athletic Director Mark McCarthy at the high school at 508-693-1033, extension 123.
Correction: The meetings will be held today May 23, not Thursday, May 30 as previously reported.