The Bedford High School cheer team is working on a new stunt sequence for Wednesday’s in-school pep rally, leading to the final outdoor appearance at Thursday morning’s football finale at Sabourin Field.
For the five senior captains, the close of the fall season comes with a wave of satisfaction that accompanies a program that they not only helped rebuild, but also brought more recognition.
Liv DiSaronno, Amy Lerra, Shane Metcalf, Sofia Quaglioz, and Libby Squire have been together for four years, said Head Coach Kasie Costopulos. They were on the ground floor when “we were building a team with anybody who was willing to learn.”
Costopulos and her assistant coach, Brianna Baptista, came on board four years ago from Woburn and basically had to relaunch the sport – there were only two returning cheerleaders. They hosted an open meeting after school – kids promoted it with flyers taped to their backpacks. “We were committed to building a team with anybody who was willing to learn.”
That first year there were 15 participants; this fall there were almost twice as many and the coaches were able to expand into a junior varsity.
“It has been incredible watching them grow,” said Costopulos, a social studies teacher at John Glenn Middle School. Baptista added, “We’re proud of how far they’ve come.”
The captains unanimously emphasized that their sport deserves respect.
“There’s a stereotype that we’re just supposed to stand there and shake our poms,” said DiSaronno. “We want people to know we are not just there for other players. We are a sport on our own.”
Lerra added, “People only see us at games. They don’t know about our competitions.”
“We put a lot of work into the sport, and people don’t recognize our success,” Squire commented. Quaglioz suspects that the second-class status is a reflection of cheer as “a female-dominated sport.”
Metcalf, who makes this year’s squad co-educational, agreed that there are people who still say, “‘Oh, you just stand on the sideline.’ Once I had that same point of view. Now I know how difficult this sport is.”
This year, the captains agreed, recognition has improved. The captains feel great about the team’s competitive season. They began preparation in August, like all the fall sports, and like the others, they had to navigate injuries over the course of the ensuing weeks, leading to the Dual County League championships.
Competitive cheer is judged on multiple categories: stunts, technique, jumps, tumbling, dance, choreography, and the actual cheer. The Bedford contingent broke the point threshold at the DCL event to advance to the regionals in its division for the first time. DiSaronno was named the team’s most valuable player for the event.
“It felt euphoric. We put in so much effort,” DiSaronno exclaimed.
At the regionals in Billerica, BHS finished two or three points out of the running for advancing. The teams at the top had “elite tumbling” and that made the difference, the captains said.
Cheer competitions are different from high-level contests in other high school sports.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere. Everybody understands what goes into this,” Metcalf observed. “We’re not out to get each other,” DiSaronno said.
The team now moves into partnering with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and a winter competitive season.
The BHS cheerleader captains embarked on their journey with relevant experience, albeit in different specialties. Some were involved with dance or gymnastics; others in swim or track and field. But they all said that what they have experienced with cheer is fun.
“By chance I decided to join. I wasn’t flexible, but I loved the sport and stuck with it,” Lerra related.
Squire added, “It’s a sport I could especially have fun with – and be pushed.”
“It’s just different from other sports – really fun,” added Quaglioz.
Metcalf said that as a freshman, “I needed to find a passion, and a way to get familiar with the school community. A lot of my friends tried to talk me into it. And now I have made many new friends through cheer.” He noted that he knew he wasn’t the first male cheerleader at BHS, but still felt like a trailblazer “after I educated myself.”
“With cheer,” the coach asserted, “there’s always a spot for everyone. We’re the prime example of how much you can grow.”
Costopulos said the growth of the program over the past four years was “through word of mouth about what our team does.”
And the increase defied the exigencies of the Covid-19 lockdown. “We tried to do remote workouts and Zoom things.”
Some of the captains credit the Netflix series “Cheer,” about a college program in Texas, with the growth of interest and respect.
“Everybody was watching it,” Quaglioz said. The show was realistic, including the hardships of cheerleading.” Lerra added, “It showed the balance of academics and cheer, and how it takes up a lot of mental space.”
That’s familiar to the BHS captains, said DiSaronno. “At lunch, we come up with things to edit. It’s pretty much in your head all day.” Lerra said, “It’s about how much work you put in to make your part better. You have to trust your teammates to be able to succeed.” Quaglioz added, “Everyone has to do their job in order for it to work.”
The other seniors on the BHS squad are India DePina, Minseo Hong, Isabella Looney, Malka Pomerantz, and Arianna Triplett, as well as the team manager, Jack Staines.