SMYNRA – In each of the past two seasons, Indian River High School’s competitive cheerleading team has placed in the top three at the state championship.
Indian River placed second in 2015 – head coach Kaitlyn Donofrio’s first year with the program – and finished third-place last year.
This year, IR put everything together and managed to come away with a state championship and did so in thrilling fashion. In each competition this winter, Indian River took home first place.
At Smyrna High School Sunday, March 5, Indian River’s competitive cheer team capped the season with yet another first-place finish at the state championship competition. The victory marked the first time Indian River’s cheer program has won any awards since the 1980s.
“We just focused on really cleaning up the routine and making sure each stunt was more sturdy and that they showed more confidence and enthusiasm,” coach Donofrio said of her team’s preparation heading into the final competition.
“I think that they were so excited because Indian River hasn’t won an award in cheerleading since 1984. So they were real excited. I kept telling them ‘don’t you want your year up on the banner in the gym?’ so that’s what they were going after. We won and they were all posing for a picture and I said ‘guess what guys? You get your number on the banner.’”
Prior to taking over as head coach, Kaitlyn coached at the pop warner level for a few years. When she moved up and took over the varsity cheer reins at IRHS, it was all about building the program and making sure the team was having fun. Winning competitions is a nice bonus.
“I just really wanted to change the way people looked at cheerleading, and to think about it as a competitive sport rather than just the sidelines during football games. When I first started here the team was made up of about 16 members and now we hit the max, which is 25,” she said.
This year’s squad competed in the co-ed division, with the competition roster made up of three boys and the rest girls.
The team will lose four seniors heading into next year, including all three of the team’s male members.
“I love them all, I’m definitely going to miss them,” Donofrio said of her seniors.
“I think we’ll be all-girl next year. All-girl competition is definitely different than the co-ed competition. The routine’s a little different with an all-girl team rather than the co-ed team. Some of the stunts you do are different. So we’re just going to have to work hard and step our game up in order to continue winning next year.”
Whether the IR cheer team competes in the all-girl competition or the co-ed competition next year, they will still be able to refer to themselves as defending state champions.
Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.