...To make school history and compete at the nation’s most prestigious cheerleading competition in Disney World. With determination, strong leadership and hard work, the Cold Spring Harbor High School Varsity Cheerleaders turned their dreams into reality earlier this year when they earned a bid and nailed their debut at the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) National Championships.
“They had an incredible performance and they hit their whole routine and under that pressure, you either fail or thrive, and they thrived,” said Coach Katielynn Romano Ferrigno (Coach R), a former high school cheerleader and Junior Varsity coach who stepped up to lead the Varsity team for the last two years. “You have two minutes and you have to leave it all out there. And that’s exactly what these girls did.” And although the team did not advance to the next round, they put up a solid clean routine and paved the way for years to come.
For the nineteen girls on this year’s Varsity team, traveling to Disney World and competing in front of the castle is a moment they will not soon forget. “It was a dream come true for me and the entire team,” said Helena Boutis, a graduating senior, captain and All-County cheerleader who has been on Varsity since the 7th grade. “It was an incredible experience for us to compete against so many skilled high school cheer teams and I am extremely proud of how well we performed,” she added, noting it was especially sweet for the seniors who have been working towards this goal for years.
Generous donations from community sponsors, fundraising at local stores, after-school bake sales and the proceeds from “Hit at the Harbor'', Cold Spring Harbor’s annual cheer competition, helped support the trip and allowed a magical send-off, complete with personalized gift baskets filled with matching Disney-themed attire and of course, mouse ears. But the road to Nationals was a grueling one. There were months of practicing six-days a week, bruises, sprains, kicks to the face, dropped stunts, and failed tumbling runs. “This is by far the most talented cheer team Cold Spring Harbor has ever had. But they had to put everything - their heart and soul - into it on a regular basis in order to get there,” explained Coach R. For the athletes, some days were harder than others. “The hardest part is to keep going after failing. You can get some ice, have a good cry and then you have to get back up and do the work” said sophomore Sienna Long, a Lloyd Harbor resident who joined the team this year.
It has taken the team years of work to receive its first bid to Nationals in an increasingly competitive sport that has taken off in recent years. In fact, cheerleading as a competitive sport, is still in its infancy. It was only recognized as an Olympic sport in 2021 (it’s likely cheer will make its Olympic debut in 2028). Eight years ago, the Cold Spring Harbor School District, led by Athletic Director Michael Bongino, hit the ground running when the New York State Public High School Association formally recognized cheerleading as a competitive sport. “The growth of our cheerleading program is one of the things I am most proud of since I came to this district,” said Bongino, adding that cheer has grown from a simple club to a full-fledged sport at three levels (Junior High, JV and Varsity) with Fall spirit squads and Winter competitive teams. “We were never known for cheer, but these girls and their coaches were so dedicated and with the district, community and parent support, we really put ourselves on the map this year.”
Cheerleaders in our school district started behind the eight ball when the sport took off. Without a recreational cheerleading league and limited opportunities, the girls had little experience and knowledge. “It took some time to understand that cheer has a very specific skill set, a rubric to earning points, and we needed some time to incorporate spirit, cheer and stunting and tumbling,” Bongino explains, adding that the past and present coaching staff were instrumental in building the program. He also pointed to the hiring of first-year Cold Spring Harbor Varsity Coach Keri Gonzalez, a former cheerleader, judge, instructor and coach for the last 15 years. Gonzalez most recently helped a neighboring school district receive their first bid to Nationals a year ago and she was determined to take this team to the next level. “I knew we could get the girls to Nationals. They were hungry for it and we had the full support and backing we needed to get it done,” she said, adding that it was important to get noticed this year and to keep pushing the envelope to advance further next year.
The future of cheer in Cold Spring Harbor looks bright. There are plans in the works to create a Game Day competition team, which will feature a more traditional style of cheerleading, and to work towards a National appearance in this style as well. In addition, the coaches are working on incorporating new techniques and pushing the team to not only qualify again for Nationals, but to have the skill level needed to move on. The long-term goals for the program will also require generating interest at a younger age and building technique. This year, the Varsity cheer team hosted two highly attended clinics, where more than sixty elementary-aged girls learned cheers and a dance from the cheerleaders. The girls were able to showcase their new skills for all to see at a Varsity basketball game during the winter season. Coaches R and Gonzalez are also working to develop a youth cheerleading league to help foster the necessary skills from a younger age. “The possibilities with cheer are endless. We put our name on the map and elevated the program to a new level this year and my vision is that we will continue to grow,” said Bongino, noting that cheerleading is among the top 3 for enrollment at the school district’s Seahawks Sports camps.
And while hard work, solid coaching and community support were an integral part of this team’s success, the cheerleaders believe it was their personal connection and the bonds they formed that helped propel them to the next level. “Cold Spring Harbor Cheer definitely gave me something to look forward to everyday, and new friends I could always count on,” said Lloyd Harbor resident, cheer captain and graduating senior Scarlett Cassidy. “We are a big family. These girls are like my sisters and whether riding on roller coasters in Disney World or performing on the big stage, we are all in this together.” said Sienna Long.