Cardinal Newman won its fifth consecutive SCISA state cheerleading championshp last month. It's the third title in a row for Cardinals coach Ellen Jennings.
Jennings was named the SCISA cheer coach of the year while Cardinals senior Katherine Gaulin made SCISA all-state and was named cheerleader of the year. Two other Cardinals, Krystyna Bogle and Elaine Beck, made the all-state team.
Jennings spoke with The State about her team's season and the program's dominance.
QUESTION: How do you feel about being coach of the year and what is your coaching philosophy?
JENNINGS: "I'm really, really thrilled. I'm not the kind of coach that feels like you do or die by cheerleading. I try to make it fun for them. They do work hard. They know that if they work hard, the reward is huge. But I try to have a balance, so they can keep up in school and enjoy themselves. The bottom line is we want to win SCISA every year and it's worked for us."
Q. What made Katherine Gaulin so valuable to the team this year?
A. "Right off the top of the bat she has been on all five state championship teams. She is just an amazing athlete. Her teammates love her and she pushes herself as hard as she would expect anybody to be pushed. She is the only cheerleader on the team to be on all five."
Q. How does all the success affect the girls' preparation? Are they self-motivated?
A. "You would think it would happen, that we would lose. I would feel awful for that class. Fortunately for us, we have been really, really good. We beat the second-place team (at the SCISA state meet) by more than 30 points. This is my third season. It started before I got here. When I stepped into it, I had to keep it going. This year, we were the only SCISA team that competed with public schools (in the regular season). In one competition, we went against 4A schools and finished second. We only have around 350 kids (at the school). The (public-school) teams we go against have 1,800 kids. It's a huge diference. We try to keep our cheerleading at higher level so we can keep that winning year in and year out."
Q. What makes you dominant?
A. "No. 1, the support from the school is tremendous. They see cheerleading as a sport and they do what they can to support it. Also our parents. They want the titles just as bad as the kids do. They don't want to give it up, either. We are out there competing every Saturday in September and October. There's not an idle weekend."
Q. How much year-round work do you put in?
A. "That's one thing about Cardinal Newman. As soon as competition season is over, I lose eight or nine girls to basketball. They move on and concentrate on another sport. In public schools, they are working all year around and continue to work on their skills. Our girls are not living and breathing cheerleading all around the year. That makes it harder. But with the size of our school, we wouldn't be able to field any other teams (if they only did cheerleading). We have tryouts in May. For us, the whole summer is off and we pick back up at the end of July. We can't make (summer work) mandatory so I forgo it altogether. The first week of August is pretty much when we hit it."
-- Steve Wiseman