FAIRFIELD — When Fairfield Warde won the FCIAC cheerleading title earlier this month, it ended a two-year drought for the school.
The championship especially resonated for Madison Beerbower.
“When we won when I was a freshman I jumped up and down; obviously I was very excited,” Beerbower said. “But I wasn’t as close with my team so I don’t think it meant as much. This is the last FCIACs with my team and I’m one of three senior captains. It was a completely different feeling. It was more like it was my team’s title.”
While Warde’s win was a renewal, it was also a reaffirmation. It marked the fifth straight year the trophy remains in Fairfield, making the town the area’s cheerleading capital.
Fairfield Ludlowe came into meet as the two-time defending champion, and also won in 2010.
“I think cheerleading is a respected sport in Fairfield,” said Nicole Gomes, the Mustangs’ third-year coach. “The Pop Warner program is good. A lot of girls get involved at a young age so cheerleading is seen as a competitive thing to do. Overall, the community supports it, and that helps. They see it as something that deserves recognition.”
Cheerleading for the top schools is an 11-month sport, and as with any season there are peaks and valleys. Warde had to deal with losing five members to assorted injuries, which the members agreed delayed them gaining any real traction until the change in calendar year.
“We have stunt groups, and when one of those people are not there it affects the whole stunt group, the entire routine,” Beerbower said. “It takes like a week to fix.”
Maggie Stopa, another of the Mustangs’ top competitors, said she thinks the loss of personnel has a greater impact in cheerleading.
“In other sports you have a lot of backups, but in cheerleading you need every person,” Stopa said.
Gomes said she could see the frustration with her team in the early going.
“From a coach’s perspective, a big part of cheerleading is stunting,” Gomes said. “And doing well with stunting is the consistency of it. So when they kept having to change, it was hard on them because they get used to working with someone. Overall as a team they were down for a while, and around December they started to pick it up again. After Christmas their confidence got better.”
Beerbower said the Mustangs had a strong sense of assuredness at the FCIAC competition.
“We were really pumped,” she said. “It was at our school so we had a lot of fans there. We do a huddle before we go on the mat. I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt different. Like it was meant to be.”
Beerbower said the emotions turned to uncertainty as the final results were read off from the bottom up.
“We were happy with our performance and how we did, but the other teams did really well,” Beerbower said. “Anyone could have won it. We sit with our left over our right feet and hold pinkies, and when they announced fourth it was like, OK. When they said second it was like, we’re not going to win, we didn’t get it. Usually you know, but you don’t know what deductions you might get. We thought we could have been first or fifth. When they said first place, and they said the host school… I still can’t find the words to describe how we felt. I’ve tried a lot of different ways.”
Though Warde and Ludlowe have been two of the league schools with the greatest long-term success, their relationship is anything but contentious.
“It’s such a friendly rivalry,” Beerbower said. “We feed off of each other and push each other. Our fans were cheering for them and their fans were cheering for us.”
Added Gomes, “FCIAC cheerleading in general is well-respected. We have a lot of teams that finish high in states too.”
Though the sport has a never-ending cycle, Stopa said it is a labor of love.
“Sometimes during the season you’re ready for it to end, but then it ends and a week goes by and you’re ready to go again,” Stopa said. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”
It is that work ethic, Gomes said, that breeds champions.
“Knowing they are so dedicated helps,” said Gomes, a former cheerleader for Sacred Heart in Waterbury. “You will tell them they are good with something and you can take a day off from practice, and they say no, no, no, they want to practice. They want it so badly. It makes it so easy to work with them. That they have that desire for themselves. It makes it easier for us to coach them.”
Next up for the Mustangs: the state championships in March.
“We will be ready,” Beerbower said. “Now we have to defend our title.”