Shrewsbury – Cheerleaders are athletes, and Bay State Cheer & Dance treats them like athletes, with all the conditioning, discipline and teamwork of any team sport.
“We once had a dad, who was a football coach and a little skeptical of cheerleading, come in. And after he saw a routine, he asked “Can you teach me how to condition my football team like that?”” said Karen Anastasi, who co-owns the training center with Matt Holdridge.
“Our kids are the athletes,” Holdridge said. “They'se not watching other athletes from the sidelines. That's how we train them and how we treat them.”
Bay State's focus is on competitive cheerleading, a sophisticated mix of cheer, tumbling and dance moves, and its teams routinely compete on state, regional and national levels. The center also offers non-competitive cheerleading, dance and special needs classes.
Bay State is just completing its fifth year, the second in its Shrewsbury location, which is outfitted with a spring floor, tumble track, tumble strip and mat area. About 150 girls and boys, from age 4 to college age, participate in its programs, around 100 of them on competitive teams. The required commitment and practice schedules vary by age and skill level.
The Bay State All Stars Senior 5 Coed team, 20 girls and boys ages 12 to 18, recently won a coveted bid and will compete in the Cheerleading Worlds competition in Orlando at the end of April. The center's other competitive teams will travel to Hershey, Penn., in early May for a northeast regional competition.
And the center holds its annual end of the year show May 20 at the Shrewsbury training facility, in which all the kids who are enrolled perform. The show is free and open to the public. Tryouts for next year's teams follow on May 21 and 22.
Anastasi noted that Bay State works with two affiliated nonprofit groups that help raise funds to offset some of the travel and uniform expenses associated with competitive cheerleading.
While the competitive teams require a full-season commitment, including mandatory attendance at practices, Bay State makes a point of scheduling around its team members” other commitments, since some are on their school cheer squads or participate in other sports as well. And there is a half-year program available for school cheerleaders to join after their school season ends.
Carol Wade Lam, former owner of a cheerleading center, coaches the senior team heading to Worlds, but also coaches the Dream Makers, a team on which special needs students participate with nonhandicapped students.
“This team meets once a week, and the students learn social skills, how to be part of a group and behavior control,” Wade Lam said. “They have uniforms, learn routines and perform at competitions, though they don's compete.” Cheerleaders from the other teams serve as mentors to these students.
What do the participants get out of competitive cheerleading?
“The kids have a blast,” said Derek Tavares, another Bay State coach. “And they learn life skills” including time management, discipline and commitment to a team.
“Cheerleading is such a team sport. If one person is missing, you can's finish the puzzle. They'se performing for two and a half minutes and you can's send in a substitute,” said Wade Lam.
“The kids make it look so easy, but it takes hours of conditioning,” Anastasi added.
In addition to its cheer and dance teams, Bay State also holds clinics for local high school and college cheerleading coaches and their teams. Last summer, Erynn McDavitt, a Bay State coach, worked with recreational league coaches on tumbling stunts their teams could use.
Information on the various programs available during the summer and for the 2011-2012 season are accessible by calling 580-845-5678 or on the center's website, www.baystateallstars.com, along with photos from this year's competitions.
Bay State is located at 224 Cherry St. off of Rt. 20 in Shrewsbury, across from the Hebert Candy Mansion.
Editor's Note: the preceding is not an endorsement and is presented for informational purposes only.