Flush with unexpected first-year success in winning The International Cheerleading Competition in Florida in March, the Bayonne PAL Cheerleaders are looking to expand, hoping to include some special-needs kids in their program.
Although a new program, many of the girls—and one boy—involved in this year’s win are not new to cheerleading, said Carla Aceti, cheerleading coach, who has coached the Midtown Community School cheerleading program for years.
“This program keeps the kids active and involved; they build friendships that last forever,” Aceti said.”It’s a town-wide team rather than one that is tied to a specific school.”
The PAL has Mini, Pee-Wee, Youth, Junior, and Senior teams and is proposing to add a Special Needs team in September.
The Mini and Pee-Wee teams work on basic cheerleading and gymnastics skills. But all teams are required to attend gymnastics with the PAL program once a week in addition to regular practices.
Youth, Junior, and Senior teams are highly competitive. Athletes are required to attend tryouts in which they go through a number of exercises that demonstrate their skills.
“This brings a lot of the players together who in other circumstances would be competing against each other,” Aceti said.
It also allows the cheerleaders to compete outside the city. School teams compete only in Bayonne.
The PAL team is only a year old and yet the team went on to win in Florida during a four-day trip March 15 to 19.
“Some of these girls had never been on a plane before, let alone going to Disney,” Aceti said. “It was a great experience. Many of the parents were with us. We had about 50 people there. We started out with four teams; now we’re up to six,” she said.
What allowed the team to be so competitive so quickly?
“I think the girls,” she said. “They love it. They would practice every day if I let them. The team develops its own routines, selects its own music, for a two-minute and thirty-second routine. The routines are very much based on tumbling and gymnastics, which is a huge part of it now. It’s changed a lot from when I used to cheer.”
Aceti was a cheerleader all her life, starting out in Horace Mann School.
“I’ve been coaching at Midtown for 20 years,” she said. “A lot of my girls know I love it, so they love it. They have that spirit. I’m trying to get everybody to have that spirit.”
PAL has competitive teams, not like school teams that perform at functions.
“With grammar schools, everybody feels differently about other grammar schools. I think this made them come together and bond in a different way,” Aceti said.
A lot of cheerleaders from all the schools cheer on the PAL teams.
“The grammar schools only compete in Bayonne. The high school goes out of town. This allows the girls to compete competitively out of the city,” Aceti said.
The teams compete throughout the state, she said.
“Once the season started we all came together.” -- Paola Eusebio
The younger teams do not need a lot of skill, Aceti said, and the PAL program helps to train and mold, but the senior team needs skills because it is so competitive.
What has cheerleading done for Aceti?
“I love it, my daughter loves it, it just makes you feel good,” she said. “It also keeps kids from getting in trouble. I feel like I have 75 children. We give them lessons that they will need in life.”
As a group, the cheerleaders do participate in fundraising events, such as one that raised $1,000 for breast-cancer research and another that helped someone suffering from leukemia.
“I want them to get out into the community,” Aceti said. “In the beginning they were more like a cheerleading team, and now they’re like family.”
One cheerleader lived on Trembly Court. The day after she came back from Florida, her house burned down.
“All the girls got together and gave money, some came with baskets of stuff, asking what they could do, even parents were offering help,” Aceti said.
The program has 80 participants so far and is looking to expand to 150 next year.
Fema Waters said she started with the Midtown team and then joined the PAL program.
“At first we were kind of nervous because all these different girls came from different schools, and we didn’t know how we were going to react to new stuff,” she said. “But afterwards, we started getting comfortable with each other and we got better.”
She said once the team got to Florida, they got really good.
Paola Eusebio also competed on the team this year.
“At first I knew some of the girls from Midtown,” she said. “I was kind of worried about how some of the other girls would be. Since they came from different schools, they had different cheerleading moves, but once the season started, we all came together.”
She said routines are different from school to school.
“They learn differently,” she said.
The PAL team does routines that are harder, she said, routines grammar-school teams are not allowed to do.
But the program increased her confidence, Eusebio said, especially when they went to Florida.
“Even though we went as a team, we really went there as a family,” she said. “Some girls broke out of their shells.”
Sennel Waters, who is a member of one of the younger teams, said her sister, Fema, talked her into joining.
“I wanted to do it,” she said, coming on as a member of the team with the youngest cheerleaders.
“We have a certified nurse on staff with us, and the team is open for all girls and boys 5 to 21,” Aceti said.
Those interested in any of the teams should call (551) 208-1007 or (551) 655-7480.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.