AUGUSTA — The Gardiner Area High School cheerleading squad had been building toward Monday’s critical moment for several years.
There were cheers from the stands at the Augusta Civic Center and tears of joy from the squad on the floor when it was announced the Tigers had won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s Class B championship. It’s been a long time coming. Gardiner last won the conference title in 2001 and a state championship in 1992 and finished runner-up in 1998, but in recent years interest has waned and the number of participants has dwindled.
A half dozen years ago the Tigers failed to field a competitive squad for the first time and long-time coach Jeanne Moody was determined to rectify the situation. Monday’s victory confirmed her efforts.
“It has been a long, stressful but worth-it ride,” senior captain Olivia Marshall said.
Gardiner’s team features 16 members, 12 of whom performed on Monday. The Tigers have added tumblers and stunts and their routine was nearly flawless, prompting a mild celebration at its completion although final scores would not be announced for another hour.
“When we hit all our stunts, that’s when I knew,” Marshall said.
Gardiner finished with 128.3 points, five ahead of runner-up Medomak Valley and six in front of Leavitt, both perennial Class B cheering powers. Erskine, Mt. View and Waterville finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
“We’ve been building it each year,” Moody said of her team. “This year we had five tumblers. Our numbers have increased, we’ve been weightlifting. We’ve been doing a lot of training and it paid off today. It was fun.”
The Tigers will compete in the Eastern Regional at the Cross Center in Bangor on Saturday. The state championships will be held Feb. 8 at the Augusta Civic Center.
Lewiston won the KVAC Class A championship for the fifth year in a row and will also be gunning for its fifth straight state championship. The two-time defending New England champion Blue Devils had a couple of hiccups in their routine and only beat runner-up Bangor by four and a half points.
“I don’t think it was our best,’ Lewiston captain Cassie Regner. “We have a lot of injuries, but we made the best of it.”
Oxford Hills finished third followed by Edward Little and Brunswick.
Lewiston will aim for a third straight New England title March 22 in Lawrence, Mass. There was a large contingent of young girls in the crowd Monday cheering on the Blue Devils.
“I know when I was younger the one thing I looked forward to was becoming a Blue Devils cheerleader,” Regner said. “Now that I’m here it’s really exciting and really worth it.”
Brunswick and Gardiner were presented with the Jamie Beth Shible Award given annually in each KVAC class to the most improved team from the previous year. The award honors Shible, a Mt. Blue cheerleader who was co-captain of the team from 1995-97 and passed away while still in high school.