Bridgehampton’s Varsity Cheer Squad Preps for First-Ever Competition

Bridgehampton High School Varsity Cheerleading Coach Jen Maldonado works with members of the squad during a practice at the school on Wednesday, 11/15/17. Michael Heller photo
Bridgehampton High School Varsity Cheerleading Coach Jen Maldonado works with members of the squad during a practice at the school on Wednesday, 11/15/17. Michael Heller photo

By Christine Sampson

The Bridgehampton School now boasts two varsity sports of its own, and fans who come to boys basketball games at the Beehive will likely see both teams in action all at once.

If you’re wondering how that’s possible, consider that the varsity boys basketball team plays its games on the court — and the varsity girls cheerleading team calls its cheers from the sideline as the game goes on.

“This kind of brings everyone together,” senior cheerleader Autumn Street said. “Maybe we don’t always talk in school, but we’re there for the same thing, for the boys to win and for the girls to perform the cheers and routines we’ve come up with. It’s for the community to watch everyone do their thing.”

Three years have elapsed since the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the statewide organization that oversees school sports, joined 34 other states in declaring competitive cheerleading a sport based on the increasingly athletic nature of the tumbling, stunts and other complicated tricks involved.

And it has been several weeks since Bridgehampton held tryouts for its first-ever varsity competition cheerleading team, which will compete December 3 against teams from across Long Island. The girls have been busy learning a dance routine, learning how to throw each other up in the air in stunt moves, practicing the underlying techniques — and coming up with their own special style, which blends the stompin’ style that Bridgehampton cheerleaders are known for with a more traditional competition-based approach.

Coach Jennifer Maldonado, who teaches special education at Bridgehampton, said she initially got some pushback from girls who were used to Bridgehampton’s traditional cheerleading style.

“I said, ‘How about I promise not to take anything away, but you promise to learn some new stuff?’” Ms. Maldonado said, and the girls began to buy in.

She coached the team as a club for two years before it was made an official varsity team this year. “I’m so happy the district was willing to invest in us,” she said. “We have a lot of fun. I don’t know any other sport that can have such a good time.”

The team even has two second-generation Bridgie cheerleaders, Jaden Campbell and Monasia Street, whose mothers were both Bridgehampton cheerleaders when they were in school.

Ms. Maldonado said the Drama Club’s production of the cheerleading-focused musical “Bring it On” last spring sparked interest in transforming Bridgehampton’s cheer club into a competition team. Indeed, five of the 13 girls on the varsity team were in the musical.

“Once they threw a girl up in the air in a basket toss, they were sold,” Ms. Maldonado said.

And she had just the cheerleader to show them the way. Ms. Maldonado’s daughter, Jade, a senior, had competed on a cheer team at Longwood before coming to Bridgehampton, and she began teaching her teammates everything she knew.

“I came up with the dance and the stunts, and the other seniors have an influence on the routines and the cheers we do,” Jade said. “It’s more like a collaborative effort.”

In competition, the girls will be judged on their jumps, tumbling, dancing, stunts and crowd participation cheers.

“We’re doing really, really good for just starting out,” Jade said. “I know we’ll get better along the way. It’s rush time right now.”

Autumn agreed.

“Even if we don’t win, it will be worth it because we’ll get that experience and the girls after us will come back and do better,” she said. “I would say everyone is happy to be out there, be loud, be proud and be positive.”

Ms. Maldonado herself is also happy to be here. After a surgery several years ago to remove a tumor near her vocal chord left her barely able to speak, she said her doctor told her, “Just don’t go coaching cheerleading.” Fortunately for Bridgehampton, she made a full recovery.

“This is super rewarding,” she said. “I like to think that some coaches teach their kids how to score, but cheerleading coaches teach their kids how to fly.”