Guiding the Next Generation of Cheerleaders
Randolph High School Counselor Cheyenne Finocchiaro took over the district’s competition cheerleading program during a time of unexpected turnover. As the previous JV Coach and Assistant Varsity Coach, Ms. Finocchiaro stepped into the role in November 2021 after working with the program for the past two years. In addition to her coaching experience, she was no stranger to cheerleading as a former cheerleader at Newton High School. She had a wonderful experience during her high school cheerleading career, and felt that leading in Randolph was a great opportunity for her to give back to the sport that she fell in love with.
“I enjoyed every single moment of my cheerleading career in high school and I wanted for students to be able to have the same experience I had. The opportunities I had to spend with the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) staff who host nationals as well as bigger competitions regionally were memories that I will never forget. I remember spending time with UCA instructors at Pine Forest Camp where I was able to get one on one time to tweak my skills and learn a lot while being with my teammates. It was a great mix of team bonding as well as learning and getting better to bring those skills back into the season,” Coach Finocchiaro said. “We are very fortunate in Randolph to have our Bulldogs Recreation Program where girls are able to cheer on teams at the Rec level. There is also Randolph Junior Rams (RJR) which is our feeder program that is a competitive level team. It’s wonderful to see girls in Randolph have a very clear developmental pathway to the high school where they are learning and refining their skills over time. In the process of RJR to high school, there’s this excitement that you can see in the athletes faces when they go to competitions with Randolph High School cheerleaders. They are able to see themselves and recognize that this will be them one day, and that full circle moment is amazing to see as they transition to the high school.”
Cheerleading and Gymnastics share many similarities as a sport. Both require discipline, practice, dedication and many physical demands to perform a variety of different stunts and skills. While both sports have teams, gymnasts are able to compete individually whereas cheerleading is often a more team-based sport. Like gymnastics, the physical demands of cheerleading are rigorous and require a tremendous amount of commitment that happens year round. “What people may not realize is that the competition season for cheerleading is in the winter, but the girls really practice year-round including the summer. In the summer, we hosted a skills camp which was all stunting hosted by UCA staff and did two full days of skills work. Then we brought in an organization called V!ROC who actually choreographs for us. V!ROC comes in and does everything from the stunting formations to the pyramids and tumbling formations. We also have two different routines. Traditional has flips in the air, a musical component, a dance component and a cheer component. Then we also have game day which is more or less what you would picture when you think about what cheerleading looks like. That’s your band chant, your fight song, and other cheers that we choreograph here in house. Throughout the year, we are constantly making tweaks. At every competition, we get score sheets where we are able to make pages and pages of notes until we are ultimately able to put together the final product which is what we bring to Nationals.”
Cheerleading is a highly technical sport which is scored on a variety of different techniques including standing tumbling, running tumbling, jumps, dance, and many other skills. Judges evaluate performances based on motion, sharpness, placement, timing, spacing, and difficulty including the types of jumps and other skills that cheerleaders are doing. It is also broken down to the tiniest components and multiple judges are looking for different things. The culmination of all of these variables is very challenging, and it requires a tremendous amount of precision and ability to be able to do well at competitions. “If you watch our team do one full out of their two and a half minute routine where they are jumping, dancing, throwing each other up in the air, holding each other up in the air and doing all of these different skills they are completely exhausted by the end of it. It is the equivalent of a soccer player playing a full half or a basketball player just playing a full quarter. They’re exhausted because it’s a combination of using every part of your body to perform these skills and techniques. Even during cheer, their arms are tired because they are squeezing so hard to make it so tight that their muscles are literally just clenched throughout their bodies. It takes a lot of physical stamina and endurance, and before competitions we are performing these full out routines multiple times. We have to give our athletes plenty of rest in between because they are so tired that it becomes a safety concern. For anyone who has ever felt like cheerleading isn’t a sport, which is a common stereotype and perception that people may have, I would invite them to come to one of our competitions and see how hard the team really works.”
Winter Competition Cheerleading has already had a phenomenal season as they prepare to head to Nationals. On January 22, the team had an impressive showing taking home 1st place in Medium Game Day, 2nd place in Medium Varsity Traditional, and received Game Day Grand Champions at the Roxy Rumble Cheerleading Competition. They also took home 1st place in Game Day and 3rd place in Traditional at the Warren Hills Magic Cheer Fest, and at the Garden State Challenge they took home 2nd Place in Medium Varsity Division I and Medium Varsity Game Day. As the new head coach of Randolph High School Cheerleading, Coach Finocchiaro has done a tremendous job leading the program and she’s here to stay. “This is my dream job. When I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a guidance counselor and I knew I wanted to coach cheerleading. That was my goal and it’s so surreal that I get to live that dream every single day,” Coach Finocchiaro said. “For me, staying in this program and being a part of this program is so important because they are like my kids. There’s something so special about watching a routine after we have made a whole bunch of changes and seeing their excitement. We have a skill called a partner stunt where there’s four different stunt groups all going at once in the same sequence. Sometimes one hits. Sometimes two hit. But when they all hit, they just scream because they are so excited for each other. That growth is what keeps me involved with this sport because seeing them grow as athletes and also in character is such a privilege. They learn so much from each other including how to be responsible for someone other than themselves, and to kind of bring that every weekend to every competition is amazing. In addition to the cheerleaders, Christina Dock who previously coached our Randolph Junior Rams program has been an amazing Assistant Coach. She joined our program in November and has been a tremendous asset to the coaching staff. She brings a wealth of knowledge about the competitive cheerleading arena to our program, and many of our younger athletes were coached by her in RJR. Her expertise when it comes to skills and choreography helped her to quickly gain the trust of our older athletes as well, making her transition to the RHS coaching staff seamless. There are just so many positive things happening in this program, and I couldn’t be prouder to be able to coach this team. It really truly is a dream come true.”
The team earned a bid to Nationals for both routines and is excited to compete this February. The district is excited for the team’s continued growth, and for Coach Finocchiaro’s leadership. We look forward to seeing how the program continues to evolve under her guidance in the coming years.