Byline: Lynne Klaft
LEOMINSTER - Freshman "flyer" Brittany Gauvin stands on the arms of four girls of her stunt group, then
is tossed 15 feet in the air - where she twists and turns in a kick double - and lands safely in a "basket" made out of their arms.
This is just a small part of the amazing gymnastic feats, back springs, tumbling and cheering that the Leominster High School Blue Devil cheer team is capable of.
The team is headed to the National Championship competition in California later this spring after scoring 184 points at the state competition.
"To get a bid for the nationals, you must score at least 160 points. We scored 184, the highest score to date (for LHS teams) and came in second against 48 other teams," said Tracey Hartman, cheer coach and special education teacher at Leominster High.
The team competed against teams from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts this past weekend and came in second in Division 1 of the New England Championships, runners-up to Pinkerton Academy of New Hampshire.
The team has not won in the state championships since 1995 and went to the nationals in Orlando, Fla., last year for the first time in 10 years - and won.
The 21-member team has students representing Grades 9 through 12 and some of the girls have been cheering together since they were 10 years old.
"Some of these kids have been together since the third grade. Wendy (Rellstaub, co-cheer coach and special education teacher at LHS) had some of them in Pop Warner and I've coached most them before high school," Ms. Hartman said.
Both Ms. Hartman and Ms. Rellstaub were cheerleaders at LHS.
"Cheering has changed a lot since our days. The stunts have become more intricate and tumbling has become very important in the past few years. The choreography is more fast-paced and they need to be strong and flexible," Ms. Hartman said.
The team begins practice in the middle of August at a cheer camp, where they work on team bonding, figure out which team members will be part of which stunt group, work on their signature pyramid for the year and spend a long weekend mapping out routines and choreography ... all before school starts.
The team practices three times a week: two times after school and once a week at Cheer Factory Athletics in Leominster, where they receive tumbling instruction and practice time.
They cheer at all of the home...