Scholars Academy Stunt Team Has Something to Cheer About

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With basket tosses catapulting ‘flyers’ into the air, combined with team members executing athletic precision with tumbles, backhand springs, toe touch jumps and pyramid configurations, the Scholars’ Academy Seawolves Varsity Stunt Team is not only defying gravity, but the traditional perception of cheerleading.

Stunt is a relatively new sport in the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), an organization, founded in 1903, that promotes student athletics in NYC public schools. It is a new form of competitive, tournament-style cheerleading that removes the crowd-leading, pom-pom-carrying elements, and instead emphasizes gymnastics, teamwork and rhythm. The focus is on technical and athletic components of cheer, showcasing partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling.

For the first time since PSAL’s stunt co-ed league was launched in 2013, the Seawolves made the playoffs this year in the Varsity Queens A League and have ‘badges of honor’ testifying their hard work and dedication.

“It’s been amazing what our stunt team has accomplished in such a short period of time. It’s been a hard road,” Judith Doran, Seawolves Stunt Team coach, also a social studies teacher at Scholars, said.

“Stunt cheerleading was only kicked off by PSAL four years ago. At the time, I was already coaching a cheerleading team at Scholars, but always wanted to gear the team into stunt, which is a more athletic part of cheer than the traditional pom-pom cheerleading. So when PSAL initially launched the pilot program for stunt in 2013, I encouraged students to try out, whether or not they had tumbling experience, and we were accepted within a short two-month season,” Doran said.

According to Doran, there are students who joined the Seawolves’ Stunt team when they were freshmen, and four years later are now graduating seniors.

“Making the playoffs is so significant for them. Last year we had a poor ranking, but with all their hard work and dedication, I’m so proud that we made the playoffs this year,” Doran said.

“To make sure we were guaranteed space to practice in the gym, as the more popular and established teams such as boys’ basketball, which always has first dibs, these  dedicated girls would come every morning at 6:30 a.m. to practice before their academic school day began. Then with many of them having finals and Advanced Placement exams to study for, we started practicing 5-7 p.m. every evening and on weekends.

“With this kind of sport, it is very difficult to practice when you have some people out. This year we had a lot of injuries. Some girls got concussions, others a broken elbow, sprained wrists and ankles, black eyes and bruises. However, these girls wore these injures like badges of honor. This is a dangerous sport and I always emphasize that safety is number one. We even had a team of Hofstra University stunt cheerleaders come in to do a clinic showing the girls how to execute their moves safely, as well as new moves they could try to give them a competitive edge,” Doran said.

According to Danielle Kulish-Atehortua, a Seawolves Stunt Team mom of Kaylee Atehortura, who brought this story to The Rockaway Times, “Coach Doran puts in so many dedicated and loving hours with these girls. She goes above and beyond her call of duty to make sure our girls are safe. The day my daughter, Kaylee, got a concussion, she repeatedly called to check on my daughter. The amazing thing was after Kaylee  got a concussion, she insisted on going to the practices, even though she had to look from the sidelines. She did not want to miss a thing and awaited her chance to jump back in.

“I feel like the boys teams usually get all the recognition, but the stunt team’s girls need a shout out. Stunt is a dangerous sport, and these girls have weathered and accomplished so much in a short space of time.”

Freshman, Kaylee Atehortua, said, “This has been my first season. I had been competitively dancing for 11 years, but quit because it was a hostile environment. The girls were rude, judgmental and competitive in a negative way, taking every chance to put you down. The stunt team is so different. Instead of criticizing, we help each other. After my concussion, I still went to practices everyday just to watch because I didn’t want to miss anything. And as I was watching my teammates, I’m like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I am in this team.’ The next time someone says that stunt isn’t a sport, I’m going to bring them over to see what we do. Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of recognition compared to the other teams, who have these beautiful uniforms and better practice schedules. I would just be satisfied if we could got nicer uniforms to boost our confidence and school spirit.”

Another Seawolves stunt teammate, Julianna, who joined the team three years ago, and is now in her junior year, said, “I love stunt because it’s a sport that builds trust with my teammates. I am a ‘flyer,’ meaning I’m the one that gets hurled into the air, trusting that my bases and backs will catch me. The most exhilarating moment is walking onto the mat in a competition. It’s such an adrenaline kick! Many people do not define stunt as a sport, but when they see us compete, it’s a laughing moment when we see the amazed looks on their faces.”

Scholars’ Principal Brian O’Connell couldn’t be more pleased. “We are flipping over our stunt team! We are very proud of the growth, development, and accomplishments of the team under the leadership of Coach Doran. They work very hard, practicing before and after school hours. It’s a huge commitment. Their teamwork and trust is exceptional. Just watching the team, makes one’s heart jump! Go Seawolves!” O’Connell said.

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