WESTBOROUGH – The annual Westborough-Algonquin football game took place on Thanksgiving Day. Community members from the three boroughs gathered at Westborough High School that morning to watch the age-old rivalry.
However, this year the time-tested rivalry had something new and exciting: the reappearance of Westborough’s youth cheerleaders on the sideline.
Westborough’s last sideline cheer squad graced the gridiron in 2018. After the onset of COVID-19, numbers dropped drastically for youth football and cheer. The town’s football program went from 225 kids to 50 kids, and the cheer program was cut almost entirely, according to Westborough Youth Football and Cheer President Joe Montiverdi.
The cheer program – without a coach or director – essentially stopped.
Until Montiverdi hired Cheer Director Mellissa Spradley.
Spradley utilized her all-star cheer background to turn around the program, holding free clinics to draw attention to cheerleading.
“Cheer had been gone for so long. We just wanted to get the word out there,” Spradley told the Community Advocate.
The free clinics worked. In Spradley’s first year, seven girls of different ages joined the program; Westborough also partnered with Shrewsbury. This year, the program doubled in size to 14 students.
“We’re small but mighty,” said Spradley. “We doubled our numbers, and we’re looking to grow.”
Spradley has had some help. Heather Bourn, who has a son in the football program, helps coordinate the sideline cheers.
“I wanted to offer [sideline cheer] to our kids and give them that full experience. No daughter in the program, no skin in the game, [Bourn] just wanted to help. It is super awesome,” Spradley said.
Hannah Rice, a senior at Westborough High School, also helps out.
“[Rice] said she loves cheerleading… She remembered being a Rangers cheerleader when she was a little girl, and she wanted to help bring the program back. She was integral in helping with students and being a super great role model,” Spradley added.
Sideline cheerleading can be hectic – especially on cold, Thanksgiving Day mornings – but Spradley said that the cheerleaders enjoy being part of the action and supporting the football team.
“They get there early, they work hard to get prepared, then they get hyped up. They want to keep the boys motivated,” she said. “Sometimes games don’t go the way they want them to… They know that their job is to keep those boys motivated, no matter what the scoreboard says… The girls are always happy, always excited.”
When the cheerleaders aren’t on the sidelines, they are entering cheerleading competitions or helping around the community. For instance, the youth cheerleaders got together to send a support video to the Westborough High School cheerleading team, coached by Emma Furmanick.
“We’re trying to get cheer involved in the community as well. We want to get that motivation back for cheerleading in Westborough,” said Spradley, noting that she hopes that youth cheer is able to become a “feeder” program for the high school team.
Montiverdi said the football team aims to support the cheerleaders.
“One of the things, from the football perspective, is teaching our football athletes that our cheerleaders are athletes as well and to try to respect each other… What we made an effort to do is to try to get as many of the football players to go and cheer on the cheerleaders at their competitions. Those girls are there for you when you compete, so you should be able to respect them and be able to show them the same support when they’re doing their competitions,” he said.