Utica Stevenson cheerleading boasts chemistry, No. 2 ranking in D-1

By: Sue Teggart | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 19, 2011

 The Utica Stevenson cheerleaders show their spirit while cheering at the Dec. 15 MAC Red Divisional meet. Stevenson placed first with 785.85 points. At press time, the squad had also garnered at No. 2 ranking in Division 1.

The Utica Stevenson cheerleaders show their spirit while cheering at the Dec. 15 MAC Red Divisional meet. Stevenson placed first with 785.85 points. At press time, the squad had also garnered at No. 2 ranking in Division 1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Inspirational quotes fittingly decorate the walls in the room where the Utica Stevenson competitive cheer team practices.

“Wimps lift weights. Cheerleaders lift people,” and “If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?”

The cheerleaders themselves are walking symbols of motivation too, sporting T-shirts with the Superman logo made out of puzzle pieces that depict their motto, ‘Every Girl is a Piece of the Puzzle.’

“Every piece of the puzzle does her part, and we say that on the mat so that every girl knows to do your part, so that we can come together to be a strong team,” said junior captain Danielle Lowe. “Everyone plays a role in our success.”

“Every single kid on the team has decided that being good is not enough,” coach Brianna Verdoodt said.

“When they walked in on Nov. 8, they were a different team than the football sideline team, even though a majority of the team is the same. They had a completely different mindset when competitive season started.”

This team-first attitude has driven the Titans up to the No. 2 ranking in the state in Division 1.

“I think this team finally gets it,” Verdoodt said. “They truly want the best for each other. Regardless of cheerleading, they really want to see each other do well. They are each other’s family. They’ve made the decision to do it for each other.”

“This year, we want the best for each other,” said junior captain Kristine Fracassa. “The chemistry on the mat is really strong.”

Already, Stevenson is scoring higher at this point in the season than it had last year, finishing second at the Competitive Cheer Coaches Association of Michigan invite after scoring 757.8896 points; placing first at the Dec. 15 Macomb Area Conference Red meet with 785.85 points; and earning another first-place finish at the Titan Varsity invite with 800.3752 points.

“Last year, it took us all the way until the middle of February to hit 800 (points) and they have done that already,” Verdoodt said.

Stevenson returns only six seniors from a squad that finished fifth in the D-1 state finals;
the rest of the team is made up of sophomores and juniors. Despite their youth, the Titans are hungry for success.

“The team is very young, but there’s a lot of drive and passion,” Verdoodt said. “Every competition they go into, they don’t have the attitude of ‘we have to take first place.’ This team wants to win but … each competition they look at as a steppingstone to see what they can fix or see where they can improve their score each week.”

Verdoodt said that while the Titans aim for continuous improvement, she also likes to challenge her cheerleaders.

“We’re a Round 3 school,” she said. “Here’s how I look at it: I don’t ever want them to be comfortable. I don’t ever want them going into practice or into a competition feeling comfortable with what they’re doing. Confident — absolutely. Comfortable — never.”

The Titans’ motto, ‘A Piece of the Puzzle,’ was inspired by Santino’s Voice Foundation, an autism awareness charity symbolized by The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon. The squad has been sponsoring Santino’s Voice in partnership with Schwarzkoff Elementary through T-shirt sales, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the local charity.