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The Westminster Bi-Line

A new era for Westminster cheerleading


Cheerleading is a time-honored sport at Westminster with many traditions such as the classic cheers, halftime routines, painting banners to hang in Pressly, and many more. This upcoming year, many of those traditions will continue on, but a few new changes and a new focus will mark a turning point for Westminster cheer. At the cheer interest meeting, coaches Sarah Mason, Pia de Leon, Laura Drewicz Ewing, Libby McCutchen, and Stephanie Frame announced many unexpected changes to the cheer program, such as the reintroduction of a competition team, a singular varsity basketball cheer team, and an excusal for JanTerm travel for basketball cheerleaders. Despite initial skepticism, athletes, through thoughtful consideration behind these changes, have begun to see the positives of this new chapter, such as the stronger emphasis on unity and sisterhood as well as an opportunity to take their skills to the next level.

Arguably the most major change is the decision to merge the JV and varsity basketball cheer squads into one combined freshman through senior squad on the varsity level under former JV basketball cheer coach de Leon, and winter head of program Mason. A third-grade teacher in the Lower School, de Leon will be leading a varsity squad for the first time this upcoming year. She is especially excited to coach since she will likely still be coaching the girls she coached during their freshman and sophomore years. Kate Barton, a former basketball cheer co-captain and rising senior, is one of these girls. 

“I am super excited for Coach de Leon to move up from JV and coach the varsity squad,” said Barton. “She is familiar with many of the girls trying out and knows how to coach effectively, which will be important for the large team we will have.”

Cheerleaders are also excited that varsity football coach Sarah Mason, who works in the Middle School Innovation Lab, will remain on varsity basketball cheer as the winter head of program and assist varsity coach De Leon. She will likely get to coach the basketball cheerleaders from the class of 2025 that she coached this past year.

Many of the reasons for the combination of JV and varsity this year have to do with the recent history and numbers on the squads. 

“Especially in the last five years I’ve been at Westminster, winter cheer has struggled with the numbers on the varsity squad, while JV has always had a full squad,” said de Leon. “This could be due to past JanTerm restrictions or academic workload, but it’s been the case these past few years especially.”

Coaches hope the combined squad will solve this problem. Furthermore, the coaches are also attracted to the idea of a larger squad because of a recent cheer conference they attended. 

“We saw a really large squad that did a pep rally at the conference, and it looked amazing,” said de Leon.

Considering that all members of the new basketball squad must perform at the varsity level, coaches expect more from everyone trying out, including the younger girls. 

“There will be a much higher expectation for athleticism,” said de Leon. “It’s varsity; it’s the expectation.” 

Many cheerleaders will remember de Leon emphasizing that “wearing the Westminster cheerleading uniform is a privilege.” This sentiment will surely manifest in next year’s team as the now varsity-level cheerleaders will be held to a higher standard.

Furthermore, coaches hope that this expectation will also have an effect on the quality of the team and the skills of the younger girls. As Mason put it, “These younger girls will be on a squad with more experienced cheerleaders, so there will be a built-in system to push them to be the best that they can be.”

Along with the hope of furthering the skills of the younger girls, the combined squad brings a new aspect of mentorship and what it means to be a team. 

“Growing up, my high school cheerleading team included freshmen through seniors, and, looking back, I can’t even remember which girl was in which grade,” said Mason. “They were all just my teammates.” 

The coaches look forward to fostering lifelong relationships by creating a group of girls that can work as a team, even if they come from different places within Westminster. De Leon routinely reminds her cheerleaders that “they don’t have to be in the same friend group outside of cheer, but they’re together in cheerleading.” 

Cultivating a sense of sisterhood will also have the benefits of added trust while stunting and mentorship between the older and younger cheerleaders. 

“I am super excited to get to meet a bunch of new people and have an outlet to connect with underclassmen I wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to connect with,” said Barton.

Allowance of JanTerm travel is another major new addition to winter cheer. De Leon describes JanTerm travel as having “been a huge issue, year upon year.” A few years ago, a previous coach even made major post-tryout cuts for girls that planned on doing JanTerm travel, resulting in a very small varsity basketball squad. 

“When you think about Westminster and the school as a whole, one of our mottos is the ‘whole child,’” says de Leon. “It would be a shame for us, as a school community, to deny any student the opportunity to travel or to do something great.”

De Leon herself has the opportunity to go to Guatemala on a JanTerm and believes that basketball cheerleaders deserve those experiences and opportunities, too. The schedule for basketball cheerleaders used to revolve around the basketball schedule, as opposed to a GHSA schedule that would allow for more flexibility for travel. 

Another important change this year is the addition of a competition team for the varsity football squad. This new competitive team, coached by Mason and assistant coach Libby McCutchen, is a revival of the program implemented a few years back with the intent of taking cheer to the next level. Mason has never coached a competition team before, but her middle and high school competition team frequently made bids to nationals. 

For the routines, the coaches will also have help from a hired choreographer. Hiring a choreographer might seem unnecessary, but all competition routines have to follow strict GHSA rules, something choreographers are experts at. 

“I think the cheerleaders are going to love the choreographed routines; the choreographer is amazing,” said Mason. “He’s already sent a questionnaire because he wants to know personally about our girls when making the routines. It’s a completely different experience that they’re going to love.”

 Some of these specialized competition routines will be tweaked for halftime shows, while some will be cheerleader-made. 

“There will be other routines that are cheerleader-made, but they will have to have certain elements because we’re really trying to progress in our skills as a squad,” said Mason. 

Along with furthering the skills of the cheerleaders, Mason is also excited about a new creative aspect regarding the routines that will be kept a secret until the football season.

With all of these new changes, the upcoming football and basketball seasons are shaping up to be the best yet. It will be very exciting to see how these new additions will play out, but cheerleaders and parents alike can rest easy knowing that the coaches have the cheerleaders’ best interests in mind and intend to push their skills to the next level. 

“The answer to any question is always going to be: what is in the best interest of the student,” said Mason. “These new changes are the best opportunity for us to grow, not only as people and in relationships, but as a sport.”


Edited by Eva Bevington

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