Shelton cheer takes home two first-place finishes

Shelton Cheer placed first in two late-season competitions. Team members are Bella Anderson, Hailee Lazaro (senior), Kayla Bailey, Ava Novais, Mia Novais, Maura Carr, Peyton Kiman, Alyssa Jardim, Caileigh Cisero, Makayla Hulton (senior captain), Trista Oddo (senior captain), Sadie Brennan, Lillian DeWitt, Emma Quigley, Brynn Roscoe, Leah Bailey and Julia Mosher.

Shelton Cheer placed first in two late-season competitions. Team members are Bella Anderson, Hailee Lazaro (senior), Kayla Bailey, Ava Novais, Mia Novais, Maura Carr, Peyton Kiman, Alyssa Jardim, Caileigh Cisero, Makayla Hulton (senior captain), Trista Oddo (senior captain), Sadie Brennan, Lillian DeWitt, Emma Quigley, Brynn Roscoe, Leah Bailey and Julia Mosher.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

Shelton cheer coach Christine Pavone has built a storied program in her 13 years at the school. The Gaels have won 11 league titles, five state championships and were twice named team of the year by the High School Cheer Association.

Pavone said she is as proud of this year’s team as any that came before it.

“My goal was to give these girls something, I didn’t want them to quit,” Pavone said of the year-long battle to compete through the COVID-19 pandemic. “I told them to keep their hearts in it and that we are still a team. I’m so glad that with (assistant coach) Katie Miller we were able to keep this team together and find a way to compete.”

With no league or state competitions in the offing, Pavone organized a virtual competition with 12 teams at the end of February. Newtown, St. Joseph and Danbury followed suit.

“Once we started competing with these virtual comps it brought everyone back together. They loved it. The whole month of March was virtual competition,” Pavone said. “Our Shelton comp was tumbling or non-tumbling. There was no stunting. Stunting was allowed at some other comps. After speaking with John Niski, our athletic director, I didn’t feel that we were safely able to stunt because we hadn’t practiced for months.”

Shelton took home first place in the non-stunting division at St. Joseph and Danbury.

The season-ending high was preceded by a downturn. Shelton annually boasts a squad of 26, team members that have claimed their spots after a tryout session each spring.

Pavone said: “Without live tryouts, prospective members couldn’t find gyms to perform and send in a video. We had 18 girls. Once we opened back up and were allowed back into the gym. It was hard to bring everyone back. The mentality was kind of defeated. The girls felt there was nothing there they could work for.

Zoom calls were held twice a week to start the season, where Pavone would play a conditioning video for the girls. She wanted her team to find a rapport necessary for success. That’s when she hatched her plan for virtual competitions.

“Judges sat at home. We created a virtual scoresheet and made each category equal, one for tumbling and one with stunting,” Pavone said. “The coaches signed in, the spectators had a link and the girls could perform live on the Zoom call or they could send in prerecorded video if they allowed to get into the team gym.”

Celebrating the season-ending competition results were made as traditional as possible.

Pavone said: “The first with St. Joe’s, we did a live call with the team. The judging was a line stream event and we found out together on video. The last one at Danbury, we got together as a team in our gym. Each girl could have two spectators, so it was like a live event. It was amazing and we got to celebrate together just like a real competition.”

Shelton will have tryouts this spring with no date set. Pavone hopes to get the usual number of candidates but first praised her 2020-21 team.

“To compete in these meets took a lot,” she said. “If we didn’t pull together, we never could have pulled this off. There was no music, so we used an eight-count. Everything was so different. It was something we didn’t think we could pull off. All the girls contributed as a team. They put all their expertise together to get a routine we could perform.

“Because of that, next year these girls can say they ended on a positive note. They know their teammates and what it takes. It isn’t going to be like we took a whole year off like a lot of teams around the state unfortunately had to do. These girls stuck through it.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354