Riverhead cheerleaders fundraising for trip to nationals in Orlando

Excitement is building as Riverhead High School’s varsity cheerleading team prepares to head to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Universal Cheerleading Association high school national competition Feb. 10-12. 

The three-day competition will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World. The nine-member team will compete against 100 others from schools across the country. Currently, the team is fundraising to cover travel expenses.

“The school doesn’t pay for this type of competition, so the girls are funding the entire trip themselves,” head coach Stephanie Piraino said. “Cheerleading is an expensive sport, plus they have to cover the cost of airfare and hotels. All in all it’s about $1,200 to $1,400 per kid.”

Several events are planned to help the squad reach its goal. On Thursday, Jan. 26, the team will host a Dinner for a Cause at East on Main in Mattituck. The restaurant will donate a portion of all take-out and dine-in profits to the fundraising effort.

There will also be a clothing drive on Feb. 3, during which gently used clothes, shoes, hats, jackets and handbags can be dropped off at Riverhead High School. The donations will be taken to Go Green Textile Recycling, which will give a percentage of money back to the team based on how many bags of clothes they collect. Team members have also set up a GoFundMe page to aid in their effort.

“We’ve been doing so much,” said Lauren Melvin, senior co-captain of the team. “But our team has been so dedicated. We all have been putting in so much work and time to do the best we can and raise enough money to go to Florida.”

At the regional competition in December, the Riverhead girls took second place overall and received two bids. Bids are invitations to compete at the highest level of high school cheerleading, and a team cannot take part in national competitions without at least one.

“Having two bids means we have two shots at winning,” Lauren explained. “It’s a little stressful remembering two separate routines, but we’ve really proven to ourselves this past year that we can do it.”

The team will perform a traditional cheer routine comprising two sections of music. The first part combines gymnastics and stunting and the second will involve more dance, with a pyramid formation at the end. The second routine is called a “game day,” which mirrors the style of cheerleading that would be seen at a college or professional football game.

“It’s uncommon for us to get two bids for nationals and it will be our first time competing in a game day-style,” Ms. Piraino said. “We’ve overcome a lot of adversity this year, and to be successful, you have to be completely committed to the sport. The girls on the team are such hard workers. In cheer, you have to be perfect and with nine girls, you can’t hide anyone’s mistakes. It’s not like other sports, where if you drop the ball you have the chance to pick it up again. You don’t get a second chance if you make a mistake.”

The cheerleaders spend two to three hours a day, six days a week, perfecting their competitive routines. On Saturdays, they participate in other competitions throughout Long Island. At these events, the cheerleaders get a chance to practice both routines in a performance setting.

“Practices can get intense, especially when balancing cheer with our schoolwork,” said senior co-captain Leslie Alvarado. “We push ourselves to the limit at every practice and strive to be the best we can be. As co-captain, I always try to build my team up, even in those moments when everyone is stressed out. We’re all in this together.”

The team hopes to raise around $10,000. Its nine members are working tirelessly to ensure they can make the trip.

“I’m very proud of our team and how far we’ve come with just the nine of us,” Lauren said. “Even on the really hard days, through blood, sweat and tears, we know we can come together to perform our very best for the competition.”