Named Best of Philly in 2009 by Philadelphia magazine, the Father Judge Cheerleading Team now ranks as best in the nation.
The squad just returned from Orlando, Fla., where they finished in first place at the National High School Cheerleading Championship.
The competition is regarded as the most prestigious cheerleading championship in the country. The NHSCC, held at the Walt Disney World Resort, is nationally televised on ESPN and ESPN2 to more than 100 million homes and 32 countries each year.
ldquo;After scoring well in the preliminary round, we were able to bypass the semifinals and head straight to the final round,” explained head coach Lisa McNesby, who is assisted by her brother Paul Ballentine, Siobhan Latta, and former Judge cheerleaders Kelly Macartney, Terrie Casper and Kristen Bieringer.
Father Judge competed against 34 teams in its division. The runner-up was Centennial High School of Franklin, Tenn.
“After losing eleven talented seniors, we thought this was going to be a rebuilding year,” McNesby explained. ldquo;We have a lot of girls that have never competed at nationals before.”
Father Judge participated in the “Large Varsity” division, which means they compete with 20 girls on their squad. To qualify for nationals, a team must score well at a regional competition. There are 40 regional competitions across the country.
“We struggled at some local competitions, but by the end of January, things started to really come together,” said McNesby. “Our girls worked hard and the coaches made the right strategic decisions regarding the skills contained in the routine.”
During the competition, the squad performs a two-and-a-half-minute routine packed with stunts, pyramids, elite tumbling skills, cheers and dance.
“It takes a tremendous amount of endurance to perform a routine of this caliber,” explained their head coach. ldquo;We thought we had done well, but we were not expecting first place. It was so shocking and exciting!”
“It was a great feeling,” said cheerleader Megan McGinley, a junior at St. Hubert High School. “We finally accomplished our goal. Competing on a national level is nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun. We received a lot of encouragement from our fans and the junior varsity team.”
The girls received gold medals and the coveted white “National Champion” jackets. The cheerleaders, family and friends celebrated the victory by hugging, crying and taking pictures.
“When we got back to the hotel, everybody jumped into the pool to celebrate,” McNesby said, laughing. ldquo;The girls sang the Father Judge fight song, St. Hubert alma mater, and recited the ‘Don’t Quit’ poem.”
Winning a national championship does not come easy. For their two-and-a-half-minute performance, the team must practice countless hours year-round.
“We practice four nights a week to prepare for competition, and we start working on this routine in the summer,” explained McNesby.
Their competition season runs from November to early March. In addition, the team cheers for every Father Judge home football and basketball game.
“We usually have a competition on weekends, and sometimes we have a game and a competition,” explained McGinley. “As it gets closer to nationals, we practice even more. We all worked very hard to get to this point.”
ldquo;The cheerleading team is a great help to our school,” said Ed Evanitsky, Father Judge’s athletic director. ldquo;Not only do they cheer at our games, but they also volunteer at our open houses and school tours.”
In addition, the cheerleaders volunteer with the March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the Red Cross.
ldquo;They are an outstanding group of athletes,” said their head coach. “The girls spend a significant amount of time together and have developed a deep respect for each other, as well as long-lasting friendships.”
This year, Father Judge introduced a junior varsity cheerleading squad.
“It was very successful,” explained McNesby. “The JV team hit two outstanding performances at nationals and placed seventh. We were thrilled!”
In 2010, Father Judge decided that its cheerleaders must be students at St. Hubert for the team to compete as a PIAA sport. Winning the national championship was a meaningful accomplishment for the squad, especially because their high school’s future is uncertain.
St. Hubert is among five high schools that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced will close in June because of finances and low enrollments. The school’s administration has appealed the decision; word of the outcome is expected this week.
ldquo;If St. Hubert closes, we’re not sure of the future of our team,” said McNesby. ldquo;It will be a decision made by the archdiocesan athletic directors. We are praying that St. Hubert wins the appeal.”
ldquo;This year has been hard and very upsetting,” explained McGinley. ldquo;We are hoping for the best. Hopefully, with this one-week delay, they change their minds and decide to keep us open.”
Father Judge will compete one last time this season, at the All-Catholic cheerleading competition on March 11. ull;•EndFragment