Archbishop Ryan High School has become quite a place for athletics.
The boys and girls soccer teams are annually in contention for the Catholic League championship, the football team has a tradition of excellence, the boys basketball team has grown into one of the elite programs in the area, softball has been a virtual dynasty, and the Raiders and Ragdolls are solid at just about everything they do.
Now the school has a state champion, too.
The Ryan cheerleading team finished first in the 2A Large Varsity category in the 2024 PIAA Competitive Spirit State Championships at Giant Center in Hershey last month.
The team went on to compete at nationals where it also put on a great show.
It was a perfect year for Ryan, which was led by captains Casey O’Rourke, Kayla Gleisner and Marisa DiGirolamo.
“Winning a state championship is a very big deal for us,” said O’Rourke, a main base from Morrell Park. “We came so close before, but we continued to put in the work to claim the title this year. No other sports team in the history of Ryan has won a state championship.
“Being the first team to do that is a huge accomplishment, especially since we’re cheerleaders. I think this title proves that cheerleading is a hard-working sport and shows how determined we are.”
Typically cheerleaders bring the noise for other teams, but this year, all the applause was for them.
Ryan’s gyms are decorated with great accomplishments and the Ragdolls just added another.
“Winning a state championship meant that all my dreams as a child had come to fruition,” said Gleisner, a back spot from Bensalem. “I am so glad I got to be a part of the leadership that brought us to this point.
“For me, cheering for Ryan means doing what I love with the people I consider to be my second family.”
Winning is fun, but winning with your best friends makes it that much better.
And while the Ragdolls had a lot of fun this year, they also put in a lot of work.
“Cheering for Ryan means hard work,” O’Rourke said. “As a team, we are determined and push ourselves to achieve one goal: to be the best. Our hard work finally paid off. Cheering for Ryan means being a champion.”
Winning a state championship isn’t easy.
Not only do you have to beat the best teams from the Philly area, you’re going against teams from the suburbs and far beyond.
State championships are hard to come by.
Since the Catholic League joined the PIAA, no sport at Ryan has won one.
A few have gotten close. The Ryan girls and boys basketball teams made the finals and the girls soccer team has had some great runs, but this was the first.
And boy is it sweet.
“Winning a state championship means absolutely everything to my team,” DiGirolamo said. “We have had a rough go at states the past couple of seasons and this year we were more determined than ever. Everything we have worked for this entire season was for this win.
“All the rough practices and times where we felt like giving up were completely worth it and I would go through it all again just for that feeling when they called our name for first place.”
Not only is this team full of great cheerleaders, it’s full of great kids who love representing Ryan.
O’Rourke is a Kairos leader, a Faith in Action volunteer, a member of student council and star on the flag football team.
Gleisner is the treasurer of the National Honor Society and an ambassador for the school. She’s also part of Rho Kappa and the National English Honor Society as well as in the Renaissance Club and Athletes Helping Athletes.
DiGirolamo, who plans on majoring in pre-med next year, is involved in the National Honor Society, Archbishop Ryan Ambassadors, Athletes Helping Athletes, the Renaissance Club, Rho Kappa, the Healthcare Academy and Morgan’s Light.
Their full schedules just add to the legacy they’re leaving at the school.
But they couldn’t be happier about what cheering at Ryan has given them, including a state title.
But it goes far beyond that.
“The best part about cheering for Ryan is my teammates,” DiGirolamo said. “We are truly a family and are there with each other through everything. Even when times get hard we love each other above everything else. The bond you create with your team is probably my favorite part about cheerleading.
“When I step out onto the mat I’m not only doing it for myself, I get to do it for the people around me. This whole year I’ve seen how hard my team has worked and that’s what makes winning so much better, I feel such joy and pride seeing the people I love succeed.” ••