DRACUT -- Nobody remembers who came in second.
But for the Dracut High School cheerleaders, every moment is a memory to be treasured. Especially for the five senior girls who have been together since first grade and will most likely part ways for the first time in September.
Kelly Emerson, Kylie Mello, Kara Miles, Haley Smith, and Kaylee Nardelli have cheered together through the ranks of Pop Warner football and into high school, on the sidelines at football games and courtside during basketball games. In addition, they have been part of the 16-to-20-member squad that participated in numerous cheerleading competitions every fall and winter.
They have been perennial Merrimack Valley Conference champs since the fall season in 2008 and went on to win the state championship in 2009. (The DHS varsity cheerleaders were MVC champions in the fall of 2007 and the winter of 2008 before anyone on the present group was on the squad.)
The team finished in second place at both the recent state championship competition and the New England championship competition, coming in just behind North Attleboro High School in both instances. They boast the third-highest score among dozens of schools from all six states in the most recent New England competition.
In addition to cheerleading, which requires from two to three hours of practice four days a week, the girls are also involved in community-service projects, such as last year's golf tournament, to raise money for breast cancer.
"We did all the promotion and raised all the money for items that would go into the goodie baskets," said Kara Miles.
Under the tutelage of their trainer and coach, 23-year-old Scott Rigoli, they have coalesced to form a single unit on the competition floor, going through a complex and intricate series of routines, stunts and tumbles, performed to the backdrop of heart-pounding music. Rigoli, Dracut's cheerleading coach since 2006, says the sport has advanced technically over the years and incorporates many elements of gymnastics, even figure skating.
"It's not all 'rah, rah, rah anymore," said Rigoli, an all-star trainer and choreographer who lives in the Boston area. "It truly is a sport and it takes a lot of skill and talent. If you ever tried to do it, you would really appreciate everything that goes into it."
Q: What is the best thing about cheerleading?
A: (Kelly Emerson) "For me, it's maintaining a great relationship with our coaches and our teammates. We're all like a big family. I know people say that all the time, but we really are. And it's a great way to stay in shape. The best thing about cheerleading is actually getting out there and during a routine giving it all we have."
Q: What is the stereotype surrounding cheerleading?
A: (Kylie Mello) "That it's not a real sport, but it's just like any other sport. It's about teamwork and proving yourself in a different kind of way. There's a huge stereotype behind cheerleading, like if you can't play a sport you do cheerleading. But that's wrong. It's about accomplishments and success. And creating good memories.
Q: What's the most satisfying thing about coaching a cheerleading squad?
A: (Scott Rigoli) I like it when the seniors leave with something I've taught them that's not only a cheerleading skill but more of a life skill, like working together as a team and depending on each other. You can see them by their senior year starting to believe in themselves and being the best person they can be. I've also learned this year that there is more to cheerleading than finishing in first place.
Q: What is the role of a cheerleader?
A: (Rigoli) The cheerleaders are responsible to spirit-lead around the school, not just during competition, but every day.
They show spirit to the entire school. They're on the sidelines during football games and basketball games and they practice four nights a week for competitions against other teams in our division that are doing the same thing. It's more competitive than ever.
Q: How did you get involved in cheerleading?
A: (Rigoli) I've been doing this my whole life. When I was in school I was a cheerleader but before that I was a gymnast and that just translated into cheerleading in later years.