In year of uncertainty, George Washington cheerleaders hoping to defend championship

Senior cheerleaders at George Washington never thought they would be able to compete this year, but, in its fourth year of competitive cheering, they were able to secure a practice space at KleinLife to put together a routine in a matter of weeks.

Shortly after the season concluded last year, seniors Leah Hazzard, Ariana McLendon and Bridgette Ortega thought it would be the last time they would ever cheer for George Washington. Schools were shut down due to the pandemic after the competitive cheerleading season concluded, and the girls didn’t have much hope they’d be able to return to the mat their senior years.

Luckily, they were wrong.

Now in its fourth year of competitive cheering, 30 students are preparing for the PIAA District XII Competitive Spirit Competition, happening this Friday. The team has a stellar track record so far, advancing to the state championships two of its first three years competing and is currently the reigning champion of the co-ed division.

Of course they’re hoping for a threepeat trip to Hershey and maybe even a repeat win, but the most important thing is the fact they get to participate at all during this unprecedented year.

“We actually thought it was a miracle,” said Ortega.

COVID-19 already made it an unconventional school year, but the lack of sufficient air ventilation in George Washington’s gym preventing any practice at the school made it even worse. The season almost didn’t happen at all, but coaches Michele Sorkin Socki, Veronica Hayes and Shana Sambrick made a few calls to community establishments before they threw in the towel.

Finally, they found a place to practice at KleinLife community center, 10100 Jamison Ave. Socki credited KleinLife president Andre Krug and vice president Victoria Faykin who were more than happy to open the center’s doors for the team.

“They saved our program. They saved everything for us this year,” she said.

Normally the team practices from August to January, but this year the schedule was crunched with in-person practice beginning in February, allowing only a few weeks to prepare the entire routine.

Other challenges are posed in the temporary lodging, too. Sometimes they can’t practice in the auditorium, making it a tribulation for the girls to find their correct placements and preventing them from doing a full pyramid. The team has a shortage of mats. Freshmen cheerers who usually get an entire orientation process were thrown directly into the thick of things. And to top things off, this year only five teams from each league will be taken to the state championship, half the number from last year.

Despite everything, nobody’s complaining. Just the opposite.

“It’s a lot of pressure on everybody, but we’re confident we can do it,” McLendon said.

The seniors have noticed a change in the atmosphere on the team since last year, with the vigorous circumstances bringing the team closer together than they have been in the past. With a fraction of the time to master the routine and only one chance to perform, it’s resulted in a much more supportive environment.

“This year everybody gets along and there’s no complaining, everyone does what they have to do,” Hazzard said.

Socki has been at George Washington for 18 years. The cheerleaders were the school’s only team to reach a state championship last year.

“It’s a real recognition for not just us as coaches but for our team,” Socki said.

No matter what happens Friday, the fact they were able to find a way to compete with the odds stacked against them is a feat itself. ••