Messalonskee High School sophomore Jade Eastman knows what’s coming when she dons the purple and white of Waterville Senior High School.

“We might be mismatching with the football players wearing their Messo jerseys,” Eastman said. “We definitely get some weird looks (at times).”

Likewise, Waterville senior Lily Ruane says she can relate when she wears the red, white and blue colors of Messalonskee High.

“When they’re wearing Messalonskee colors in Waterville, the classmates are looking at them kind of weirdly,” Ruane said.

Such is the life in a unique cheerleading co-operative program between rivals Messalonskee and Waterville high schools.

The new cheering co-op — one of five in the state — came to fruition thanks to coach Annie Dobos, who suggested the merger last year after seeing both programs struggle with participation numbers.


Dobos was coaching both the Waterville and Messalonskee programs last year.

“We started last winter,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic, the programs were struggling, I coached both during the fall last year. We managed to come up with a co-op last year. This summer, I sat down with (Waterville Athletic Director Heidi Bernier and Messalonskee Athletic Director Chad Foye) and said, ‘Hey, instead of coaching two struggling programs, we just become one (program) and be stronger together. We’ll cheer for both (schools), we’ll cheer at all games.”

Waterville/Messalonskee is the only cheering co-op in the state that features Class A and B schools.

“They were a little hesitant at first, I think, especially for the fall season,” Dobos continued. “Fall cheering is school pride, school spirit. I would even say a little territorial. Granted, they’re in different classes, so there’s no (games against one another). It’s really about the kids, the sport and giving them the opportunities. They both finally said yes. Chad Foye and Heidi Bernier are both amazing.”

Destiny Baker, foreground, and Hannah King, center background, practice a routine with the Waterville/Messalonskee co-op cheering squad Sept. 29 in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Two other co-op programs — Gardiner/Hall-Dale and Monmouth/Winthrop — reside in central Maine. Houlton/Greater Houlton Christian and Mattanawcook/Penobscot are the state’s other co-ops.

“It’s been awesome,” Eastman said. “We haven’t had large teams in the past, so joining (teams) was kind of the obvious choice. At first, schools were kind of hesitant about it. But, now that they’ve seen how far we’ve come and how well the schools mesh together, it’s been really great.”


“It’s definitely grown both programs, both Waterville and (Messalonskee), which is really good,” Messalonskee junior Jocelyn Poulliot added.

The merger has had its challenges, considering Messalonskee and Waterville enjoy a healthy rivalry. Furthermore, planning a schedule around events at two schools also took some time.

“We weren’t sure how the kids were going to feel about it,” Dobos said. “(At first) it was weird, very weird. But when they got it in their heads that they’re here for the sport, they’re OK with it. And when you see them practicing, you can’t tell which school they go to. They’re just one team, and they’re an athlete here for their sport.”

“It was pretty cool finding out that we were going to be cheering for two football teams,” Poulliot added. “But, of course, it was different having two separate cheers.”

The squad has been able to navigate the football season as Messalonskee typically plays Friday nights while Waterville primarily plays on Saturday afternoons.

“We cheer all (Messalonskee) home games and all Waterville home games, like all cheer teams,” Dobos said. “It’s been really nice, because (Messalonskee) has Friday night games and Waterville has Saturday games. We did have one Friday night game with Waterville, for homecoming, but it just worked out that Messo was away that week.


“It’s hard, ” Dobos added. “There’s two games where they have a Friday night game and then a Saturday game back-to-back… Typically, the week leading up to a game, we try to (practice) at the (game) location, that way it’s not as awkward to yell, ‘Eagles,’ or ‘Red, white and blue,’ in Waterville.”

The Messalonskee/Waterville co-op cheer squad stands with their hands over their hearts during the national anthem prior to a Sept. 18 Messalonskee football game against Gardiner in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Cheerleaders from both schools will wear Waterville (purple) or Messalonskee (red, white and blue) team colors on game days.

This can lead to a clash of colors

“But we get a lot of support,” Poulliot added. “A lot of teachers, a lot of students are questioning and asking and they’re really excited for this program.”

Waterville cheerleaders agree.

“When they get on the field, though, that all goes away,” Waterville senior Malaki Baker added. “I don’t think (people) even know who is from which school. And they support us, anyway.”


With the combining of the two programs, Waterville/Messalonskee will swing up to Class A during the winter season, which means competing against some of the top cheering programs in the state. But the group is looking forward to the challenge.

The Waterville/Messalonskee co-op cheering team practices Sept. 29 in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I’m excited, but a little nervous, too, because it’s a little intimidating,” Ruane said.

“We have a lot of new people this year, so we’ve kind of been prepping them that it’s going to be different, because winter and fall can be different,” Eastman said. “We’re trying not to throw them into the deep end. But it’s still kind of scary, because there’s some big (Class A) teams.”

Dobos said she’s encouraged by the growth of the program and looks forward to the Class A competition.

“We have to swing up, which is OK,” Dobos said. “It’ll be another building year, I think. (For the fall season), they’ve blown me out of the water.”

Comments are not available on this story.