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Shelter Island cheerleading coach sees girls empowered by sport

Like many girls, when Adrianne Pitch was in elementary school, she looked up to her big sister Danielle for clues for just about everything. One of those times was when Danielle joined the cheer team at St. Anthony’s School in Huntington.

It was a no-brainer for Ms. Pitch — she was on her way as a cheerleader.

“It was great to be on a team with other girls, sharing experiences together,” she said.

Now, as the varsity cheerleading coach for Shelter Island School, she’s inspiring girls to take up the sport with enthusiasm and effort. In her first season as a coach — she also teaches 4th grade — she noted the satisfaction she takes from helping the girls succeed. But the girls have helped her, as well.

Top row, from left, Johanna Kaasik, Harper Congdon, Fanaye “Grace” Catherine-Lim, Elsie “Mae” Brigham, and Mary Gennari. Bottom row, from left, Dariana Duran Alvarado, Lili Kuhr, and Keili Osorio Lopez. (Courtesy photo)

“I was surprised at my first practice with how the team responded,” she said. “The captains and all the girls were responsive and supportive of me.”

She spoke about how sport is a path to empowerment for girls, who can mark measurable accomplishments and gain support from each other. Sport is the correct word for cheerleading, although it’s often stereotyped as just cute smiles and pom-poms.

But cheerleading meets the definition of a sport on all levels. The athletes on a cheer team have to be strong, flexible, athletic, focused and work as a unit to achieve goals, which requires collaboration, practice and training.

In May 2014, the New York State Board of Regents reached a milestone. There was a proposal before them to declare cheerleading an interscholastic sport.

Although it gained immediate support from many organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it took years to get a final unanimous vote from the Regents — 17-0 to legitimize it as a sport on the level of all other high school sports.

Now, more than 30 states have designated cheerleading as a sport.

Cheerleading brings a sense of entertainment — another essential component of sports — and unites fans at games, to support and animate a positive culture for the student body.

Ms. Pitch said she’s proud of her athletes, who are having fun in a demanding endeavor.