PELHAM — Scanning the gymnasium for the next dilemma, Pelham High School cheerleading coach Michelle Parisi remains calm and in control while in the midst of chaos as the squad prepares for practice.
She quickly ties a red ribbon around one girl’s ponytail and shouts at another to find a size-five skirt.
Cheerleading is Parisi’s life. It has been that way since she first joined the squad as a freshman eight years ago. After graduating from Pelham High School in 2003, she took over as coach, spending 20 hours a week creating choreography and training the girls while maintaining her full-time college responsibilities.
“I got so addicted to winning once we started I just don’t want to slow down,” said Parisi, 22.
Since she’s been the coach, the titles have been rolling in. Each year, the Pelham High School cheerleaders win first place in at least one of two state tournaments held in the spring and winter.
Most recently the squad took the top prize at the NHIAA 2006/07 Winter Spirit Tournament held on Feb. 25.
As Class I champions they were invited to the Regional Competition at the University of New Hampshire on March 17, but unfortunately were unable to attend because flight delays left Parisi stranded in Florida while on vacation. She was forced to drive home when her flight was canceled due to bad weather.
“We had a really good chance of winning against the Division II teams too,” said Parisi. “The girls were really disappointed and so was I.”
The competition would have been the last for Parisi, who will graduate from Merrimack College this spring with a degree in biology. Not exactly the ending Parisi was hoping for to her short-lived coaching career.
“I’m over with this chapter of my life; time to move on and get a regular job,” said Parisi. “I’ve always made cheerleading my first priority and now I can’t do that anymore.”
Parisi says she can create a routine in eight hours. It sounds simple to hear her describe the process. She said she just sketches out the formations, creates a dance routine and adds the music. But creating a winning routine is not a simple task. According to Parisi, if the team had to hire someone to choreograph their routines, it would cost about $1,500 and likely take weeks.
Her expertise and natural talent for cheerleading is an asset the team will miss.
“She pushes us to perform how she expects,” said Jenna Riordan, 17. “She knows we have a lot of talent, so when we don’t give our all, she says we aren’t working to the best of our abilities.”
According to Parisi, the key to a strong winning team is to incorporate some of the most difficult stunting and tumbling moves into the routine and practice over and over until mistakes are virtually nonexistent.
“I make the girls run the routines without making any mistakes three times before I let them leave,” said Parisi. “I push them because I know they can do it and that’s why we win.”
Her soft brown eyes take on a maternal look as she talks about the talent on this year’s squad. Letting go of the reins will be difficult, and she worries about who will take her place.
“The girls have so much potential and I worry about someone inexperienced who can’t accentuate their talents coming in and taking over,” she said.
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