Many FSU students know the cheerleading team from their boisterous chants from the sidelines of the football games or their appearances at the pep rallies on campus.
The stunts and routines performed at games were a warm up compared to the stiff competition the cheerleaders faced in April at the National Cheerleading Association’s (NCA) annual competition in Daytona.
The hard work of the 16 cheerleaders paid off.
FSU’s cheerleading team, the Rams, placed third in the nation in the Division III All-Girl Intermediate Competition.
The Rams began preparing for the NCA’s national competition last August, said senior and team member Tiffaney Lynch.
Last August, the team bid for a spot to compete in Daytona in the NCA Nationals during a cheer camp at Boston University.
Freshman and team member Nessa Warrington said when the team competed at the cheer camp at Boston University back in August, they ended up with a “bronze bid”, which meant the team qualified for Nationals, but would have to pay for the trip themselves through fundraising.
According to cheerleading coach David Lombardi, the team had to raise roughly $20,000 for airfare and hotel expenses to make it to the competition in Daytona in April.
He said the funds were raised by working a concession stand at Gillette Stadium and hosting competitions for youth cheerleading teams in the Framingham area.
Warrington said the team would spend over eight hours at Gillette selling hot dogs, popcorn and beer. The team cooked and served all the food, often staying late in the night at the stadium. She said one evening after a game at Gillette, she didn’t get home until 3 a.m.
She said the team worked 12 events to raise the money.
Lynch said following the successful bid, the Rams spent the fall semester putting together routines and practicing stunts to showcase during football games.
She said, “During the fall, we practice three to four times a week. … We use this time to better our cheer abilities and stamina.”
She said the spring semester is “crunch time,” and the team focuses solely on the routine for Nationals. “We work our hardest during the practices in the spring before the competition.”
Coach Lombardi, a native of Framingham, began cheering at Keefe Regional Technical School when he was in high school. He cheered professionally for The Celtics and came to FSU in 2009 to be an assistant coach. Lombardi has been head coach of the Rams since 2011.
Lombardi said the team has a regimented practice that involves stretching and warm ups before practicing stunts.
He said the team started practicing “basic skills” and worked up to more “advanced stunts” as the season progressed. “Then, as we got closer to Nationals, we started practicing like we would when we get to Florida.”
Freshman and team member Rikki O’Brien has been cheering since she was 6 years old. She said the sport has taught her “discipline and hard work in a way nothing else has.”
O’Brien said, “I definitely wasn’t sure if we could come in top three, but it was super satisfying to prove that even though we don’t have has as many resources as other schools might, we can still succeed.”
Micayla Goulet, a sophomore and team member, said she has been cheering for 11 years and owes her passion for the sport to her mother. She said the competition in Daytona was “one of the best experiences as a cheerleader. There are thousands of cheerleaders everywhere, and you get to practice on the beach.”
Goulet said the competition was broken up into two days. Competing in the heat and humidity of Florida against 13 other teams, the first day of the competition didn’t go as well as the team had hoped.
She said the team didn’t perform their “best” on day one, placing sixth of the seven teams that would move on to the second day of the competition. The team received six deductions during their performance.
Goulet said the team’s performance was “10 times better” and they received only one deduction during their set on the second day of the competition.
Goulet said the team was successful because of the dedication of every member. She said it can be challenging for the team to “hit” the stunts at the same time because each stunt is being performed by three smaller groups of cheerleaders. “Luckily, we were able to come together and motivate each other.”
Lynch said the routine performed at Nationals consisted of stunts, tumbling, jumps and dance.
The team included a stunt in which three team members are thrown simultaneously in the air and caught by the members on the ground. A move such as this requires synchronicity and uniformity.
“Stunts are usually the most nerve-racking part of the routine because that is when we have to work as a group and not just as individuals,” she added.
During the set, when the team isn’t performing their stunts, the routine is filled with tumbling, jumps and motions. “Tumbling is the acrobatics and flips we perform before and after the stunts. For our jumps, we performed a toe-touch back handspring, and then a front-hurdler toe-touch.”
She said the team performed to a mash-up of “upbeat songs” that included voiceovers that exclaimed: “We are Framingham State!” and “Right here on the bandshell, servin’ up some L’s.”
Lynch said dancing is an integral part of the routine because “the dance is short, but the motions we perform have to be sharp and flawless because it’s the last part the judges see of the routine.”
Nessa Warrington has been a competitive cheerleader for 15 years. As a freshman at FSU, she joined the team in the fall. She said the team had somewhat of a “difficult” start because the Rams were primarily freshmen and transfers with only six members returning from previous years.
Because there were so few members, at the end of September, tryouts were held again. “Unfortunately, almost everyone who had come to tryouts quit at some point in the season. So, multiple times, we had to change everything. We kept making major changes right up until we started competing in March.”
Warrington added, “It was wicked stressful, and it was really hard for us not to get discouraged. But we managed to pull it together and do really well in Daytona.”
Warrington said her favorite aspect of cheering is the community she now has built around her, especially as a freshman.
She said because the sport is so intense, it’s crucial for the team members to be supportive of one another in and out of practice. “Cheerleading is very mentally challenging. You have to trust people you just met to catch you, and you have to convince yourself to do all these insane things with your body and be OK with the fact that if something goes wrong, you could get seriously injured.”
Lynch said, “Our sport relies so much on teamwork. We have to make sure we trust and genuinely care for each other, and not just during practices.”
Lynch said cheerleading has provided her with incredible physical and mental strength.
She added, “Cheerleading is thought of as pom-pom waving and cartwheels. While we definitely do those things, there is much more to the sport than what meets the eye. The physical abilities of cheerleaders have been underestimated.”
She said, “Repeatedly flipping your body mid-air during a 2-minute-and -30-second routine, all while keeping a smile on your face, is not a task most people can handle.”
Though the team placed third, Lombardi said because they had come in sixth on the first day of Nationals, it “almost felt like first place.”
He added, “Taking a team to Nationals is always an exciting time. To be able to see your team compete with and against other great teams from across the country is just surreal.”