Cheer teams prepare for 2021 season

  • By Adam Aucoin, Rutland Herald
  • January 28, 2021

Rutland County has become a cheerleading mecca in the state of Vermont.

The Rutland High team has won six straight Division I championships and Mill River has won three Division II titles in a row and four in the last five years.

At last year’s state meet, the top three teams in Division II were all from Rutland County.

Mill River had the winning score of 179.5, Poultney had 146 and Fair Haven had 144.

Rutland’s score of 197 outpaced a tough second-place battle between Mount Anthony and South Burlington.

Mount St. Joseph and Green Mountain are other schools in the area with cheerleading teams.

Area schools are revving up the 2021 season, but like most sports being played amid the pandemic, there will be some differences on the cheer mat this year.

As laid out in the Vermont Principals’ Association guidance, “due to the increased risk of transmission associated with vocalization and stunting, cheerleading teams are not permitted to perform vocal routines or stunting during the winter 2020-2021 season.”

Even with the restrictions, teams are taking the season in stride and happy they get a chance to compete.

“The VPA has given us a good sense of what we can and can’t do,” said Mill River coach Tabitha Moore. “We’re feeling good right now. We’re fortunate to be able to do more than a sport like basketball can right now. We can still build out routines.”

The impacts of the pandemic definitely impact how the Minutemen put their routines together. Mill River’s squad is typically on the smaller side, so the social distancing requirements make preparation a bit different.

“It can be tough figuring out how to fill up the mat with people six-feet apart,” Moore said.

Mill River has nine athletes on its roster. Rachel Clark and Jacob Langlois are captains and junior Crystal Perham is an assistant captain. Zoe Cange, Lucia Verdon, Kylee Goodell, Emma Johnson, Kyran Allen and Alison Usher round out the squad.

Moore knows the reality of distancing is different for a larger school like Rutland, where her friend and longtime RHS coach Cara Gauvin has higher roster numbers.

Even with the large roster, Rutland has managed the need to social distance well.

“Our cheer mats are six-feet wide, so they’re almost always six feet apart,” Gauvin said. “It has been really easy for us to social distance.”

Like at Mill River, the RHS athletes are happy to have a season and doing everything they can to maintain it.

“The team has come together. Everyone is going through the same struggles right now,” Gauvin said. “They’ve been good about following the protocols.”

Rutland had fall cheer, albeit different than it normally does, but Mill River did not have any fall cheer this year.

“They hadn’t been on the floor with me since March, so it was good to see each other again,” said Moore about the start of practices earlier in the month.

The lack of stunting and vocal routines is a tough pill to swallow for coaches, but they’re doing their best with what they can do.

“We’re a stunting team so it’s tough to not do that, but we’re also a good tumbling team,” Moore said. “The team is working at getting back to the important factors that you need in cheerleading.”

“Stunting is something that makes it more exciting.” Gauvin said. “It will be a tougher year for coaches and choreographers.

“We’re at a little bit of an advantage because we’re a relatively strong tumbling team. Tumbling can be harder on kids because of the endurance you need. Very few teams have a lot of tumblers.”

Gauvin, who is in her 26th year at the helm at RHS, has 19 girls on her roster, which is a few less than she normally has. Four of those girls are seniors.

“I feel for them. It wasn’t what they expected for their senior year,” Gauvin said of the seniors. “All of them are happy they can cheer. It would have been worse if they didn’t have that.”

Moore noted the importance of school spirit to her team at Mill River and how that is heightened even more in the unfamiliar climate this season inhabits.

“They have a sense of honor to their school. They aren’t just cheering for themselves but the other teams they usually cheer for,” she said.

Both teams also have an eye on the prize. Those two prizes have lived in Rutland County in recent years and Rutland and Mill River would love to keep it that way.

“The expectation is that we’re going to do well and put our best on the mat,” Gauvin said. “They want to defend their title. We’re looking forward to getting started.”

All meets will be virtual and the state meet is scheduled for March 20.

adam.aucoin @rutlandherald.com