The Petaluma High competitive cheerleading team picked up right where it left off pre-pandemic, only on a higher level.
Petaluma’s team won the World Class Cheer National Championship in competition held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was a competition the Trojan team won in 2020 before the COVID pandemic canceled the event last year.
In addition to the overall championship, the team also won a choreography award for best choreography of the day.
This year, the championship was even more special since the Petalumans were competing in the Advanced Division after winning their first championship in the Intermediate Division.
“The competition in the Advanced Division was amazing,” said Petaluma Coach Ty Mooney. “Our athletes pushed to compete at this prestigious level and they certainly held their own.”
Mooney said her team kept working on their routine right up until the last day. “We drove from Los Angeles and immediately held a practice at a local all-star gym. It was a long day, but it paid off,” the coach said. “It was important for us to have that practice.”
Their time on stage was pressure packed. The Trojans had 2 ½ minutes to prove their skills. “They had one shot to get it right,” explained Mooney. “We had to be at our best.”
“We just had those 2 minutes and 30 seconds that we were preparing for for the whole year,” observed Eva Harriman.
She was one of two sophomores on a mostly all-senior team, but fit right in with her older teammates. “The seniors were great, she said. “They invited me in like one of their own.”
Harriman said she is looking forward to a return next season, but acknowledged, “I don’t know if this year will ever be matched.”
One of those seniors who embraced Harriman was team captain Aleydis Reyes Sainos. She was part of the team that won the Intermediate title, but said this year was special.
“It was definitely different,” she said. “There was a different energy. We were all friends. We really bonded.”
She said having the entire year come down to one performance was “definitely nerve-wracking,” but she felt good about Petaluma’s chances. “I had full confidence in every person on the team,” she explained.
Members of Petaluma’s championship team were: Aleydis Reyes Sainos, Miguel Vizcarra, Natalia Napoli, Shelby Keen, Isabella Martini, Miyeko Burcina, Haylie Acosta, Eva Harriman, Jessica Spano, Leah Woodyatt and Kayla Kesterson.
October 27, 2020
A school project that took 10 months to complete chronicles one of the most impressive sports accomplishments ever at Petaluma High School.
Once it became certain that the Petaluma High cheer team was headed for Los Angeles and the World Class Cheer national championships last February, senior Bella Muniz began putting together a video documentary of the journey.
Using a camera and skills learned in her film class, she videoed practices, interviews and the national competition.
She was getting ready to begin the editing process when on-campus school was shut down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not only did the pandemic cost Muniz the remainder of her senior year and all the frills that went with it – graduation ceremony, senior prom, safe-grad party – it also prohibited her from finishing the video she had taken of Petaluma’s run to a national championship. She never had a chance to submit her class project for a grade.
Even after graduating, she continued to edit and refine what developed into a professional-looking documentary. “It was something I wanted to do for myself,” she said. Last week, her high school coaches and teammates got a look at Muniz’ final product.
“It really came out great,” said Petaluma High cheer coach Ty Camacho. “She did a wonderful job.”
Muniz said she wanted her video to tell more than the story of her team’s trip to nationals. “I wanted to show what cheerleading is all about – how hard we work and what we do. I wanted to show how things really are.”
Muniz credits her Petaluma High teachers Johnathon Knox and Dan Hess with helping her not only understand more about how to produce a quality video, but also with allowing her to use school equipment to complete the job, even though it was never submitted as a school project.
“It took almost 10 months to finish,” she said. “With Covid and everything, I wasn’t sure when I would be able to work on it. By the time I started editing, I had forgotten some of the things I had learned in class and had to relearn some of it.”
She said she was pleased with the final product. “There are some things I could have done better, but I think it turned out pretty well. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, there are some things I would have spent more time on.”
With her project complete Muniz is taking some time to work, save money and decide which of her many interests she will pursue next.
“I’ve always loved film,” she said. “I seem to have an eye for things.” But she also enjoys piano, guitar, singing and performing, which is why she loves cheerleading and is continuing with a club team.
“It is right up my alley,” she said. “It is performing, doing something creative and inspiring others.”
October 13, 2020
The national champion Petaluma High School cheer team hasn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop it, but it has forced its always optimistic team members to focus on things other than pyramids and dance routines.
“This is an exciting time for us,” said Petaluma Cheer Director Ty Camacho. “We have been able to take the time to focus on character and culture, which are a big part of our program.
The girls (there is one boy on the team) have been concentrating on becoming more involved in the community and taking more leadership roles in the community and the school. They have met via Zoom with Elece Hempel, executive director of the Petaluma people Services Center; Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett and Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn about community service and leadership.
“They are learning that it is not just about their sport, but who they are,” the coach said.
Camacho said the cheer team members are getting creative in maintaining connections during the pandemic-forced social distancing. Several of the girls have worked from home to make masks for homeless persons, they have formed a book club, have simultaneously watched the same movie from their home and are planning other activities.
The team members have also been allowed to practice – sort of. Team members meet twice a week for outdoor workouts. Participants are spaced 8-feet apart and Camacho finds herself coaching from as far as 20 feet from some members of the team. “I have to use a microphone,” she noted. While the athletes can practice dance and other moves, they obviously can’t do the stunts and pyramids that are so much a part of their routines. Nor can they work with weights to improve their strength and conditioning. “We do a lot of squats and work on the stairs,” the coach said.
Camacho said the girls are making it work. “They are learning to be creative,” she explained. “They are learning to take ownership of their own program.”
That includes the older competitors helping out the younger athletes. With 40 squad members on the varsity and junior varsity teams and Camacho the only coach, she needs the help. It comes from her older athletes. “The varsity members really interact well with the JVs,” she explained.
It is not only with cheer that team members help one another. The team has an average grade point average of 3.6 and 30% of the varsity team has a grade point average of 4.0 or better. Part of that is because team members work together, remotely studying together and working together to make sure they all attend Zoom classes.
“They hold each other accountable,” Camacho said. “I’m incredibly proud of our GPA.”
The new North Coast Section guidelines call for cheer to follow the same schedule as football. That means official practice beginning in the middle of December with the team ready to cheer on the sidelines when the football team opens its season the first week in January.
The competitive season for cheer usually begins in February, but this year won’t get started until late March. Camacho said that should allow her team to have plenty of time to prepare for competition.
Last season, Petaluma won national honors in the intermediate division. This year the plan was to move up to the advanced division, but with the pandemic and strange season, Camacho said Petaluma might again compete in the intermediate division. “We’ll see,” she said. “This team might surprise me. It is a great group of athletes.
ARGUS-COURIER SPORTS EDITOR
February 5, 2020
Cheerleaders are arguably the best athletes in any given high school and certainly the most noticeable as they perform at football and basketball games.
To be a cheerleader is also to be the epitome of a teammate. Nothing works - not the stunts, not the dances, not even the cheers - unless each member does her (or his) part.
“The sport itself is highly team focused,” said Ty Camacho, the Petaluma High School cheer director. “Everyone has to do their part. If one person fails the team fails.”
What is less known and less appreciated is that cheerleaders are competitive. That side of the athletes was brought out recently as Petaluma High School hosted the World Class Cheer Nor-Cal Classic, a competition that brought together cheer teams from all over Northern California.
It is believed to be the first cheer competition ever hosted by Petaluma High.
“The sport is evolving,” said Camacho. “Cheerleaders have to be competitors, dancers, athletes and students.”
An aspect of the sport that is noticed, but goes unmentioned is that, if not done correctly, it can be dangerous.
“If the athletes aren’t properly trained and properly coached it can be high risk,” Camacho acknowledged.
That is where teamwork really comes into play.
“I love the family aspect of the team,” said junior Hannah Laliberty. “I enjoy how hard the coaches push us, and that we are all like one big family. Everyone cares for one another.”
She points out that not only do the cheerleaders “work just as hard as other athletes,” but they are also required to perform at games as well as compete.
Laliberty credits much of her and the team’s success to Camacho. “Ty has helped me become the athlete I am today,” Laliberty said.
Like all quality athletes, Laliberty is looking to continue her sport after high school. She said that competitions such as the one held at Petaluma helps the team members get noticed.
“At an all-star competition there are a lot of college scouts looking at the teams,” she explained. “I’ve already had some college scouts reach out to me.”
Liliberty also helps coach a Petaluma Panther youth team.
“I really like being a leader and knowing I’m giving the girls someone to look to,” she said. “It is almost as rewarding to give back as it is to win a competition.”
How dedicated is Laliberty to her sport? When she isn’t cheering, practicing cheering or coaching cheering, “I watch cheer videos to see what I can learn,” she said.
Like many members of the Petaluma team, senior Caitlin Perez has been cheerleading since she was 5 years old.
Like Laliberty, her favorite part of cheer is the feeling of family. “I like the bond we form and the teamwork even in the fundraising,” she said.
She emphasized that her sport isn’t easy. “It is very hard on both the mind and the body,” she explained, “but once you reach your goals, there is a feeling like no other.
She said winning the Classic competition and earning a trip to the World Class Cheer competition gave her that special feeling.
“It really filled us with happiness to know we had come so far and accomplished so much,” she said.
She, too, is a volunteer youth coach and wants to give back to her sport after she graduates.
“I’m thinking about coming back to coach,” she said. “I want to be there for the younger girls.”
Senior Bella Muniz likes the performance aspect of the sport. “I’ve always liked performing and that is a big part of cheerleading,” she said. “I also like being part of the team.
“It is a lot of work, but it is worth it.”
Unlike many of her teammates who began cheerleading at a young age through the Petaluma Panther youth program, Muniz didn’t start until her freshman year in high school.
“When I first started I just wanted to be part of sports and part of the team,” she said. “Now it is a big part of my life. When I think of high school, I think of cheer.”
She doesn’t want it to end. “I want to cheer at SRJC and on a university team,” she said. She also hopes to become part of the World Class Cheer program that holds camps and competitions for cheerleaders.
That competitive side is quickly evolving. One of the fastest growing female sports is STUNT the Sport, a competition that focuses on the technical and athletic components of cheer.
“There is no glitter and glitz. It is all about skills and techniques,” explained Camacho.
The Petaluma coach said she is hopeful the competition will some day be recognized as a high school sport and on the international level.
“We are working to get it into the Olympics,” she said.
Meanwhile, perhaps the best pure athletes in high school can be seen - and certainly heard - at basketball and football games as well as rallies throughout the North Bay.
February 5, 2020
The Petaluma High School Cheerleading team reached the top of its competitive pyramid last weekend when it won the World Class Cheer National Championship.
“It is the end-all and be-all of competitions,” said Petaluma coach Felecia Humphreys. “Teams work all season and perform at multiple regional competitions in order to execute a perfect routine at Nationals.”
For Petaluma High, that meant a season of hard work and an 8-hour trip to Los Angeles for a 2-minute and 30-second routine in front of judges.
“The pressure to perform well is unreal,” said Cheer Director and coach Ty Camacho. “Unlike football, when you have a bad play you can usually count on having another chance to move the ball. For cheerleaders, everything is riding on 2 minutes and 30 seconds. One mistake could cost you a win. Although a coach can spend hours at practice working to guide the athletes and to perfect the routine, once they hit the mat, it’s up to them to get the job done.
“As a coach, once the team takes the floor, everything is out of your hands. You have to trust that you did your job, and that they will go out there and do their job, too.
“After the music starts, the outcome is really up to the athletes.”
Team member Hannah Laliberty said the championship was a team effort. “We don’t just do our best for ourselves, but for everyone else on the floor,” she explained. “We all wanted this win for each other.”
To top off the victory, Camacho was honored as the 2020 Coach of the Year.
She has been coaching cheer for eight years. After coaching the Petaluma Panthers youth teams, at a local All-Star gym and for a year at Casa Grande High School, she took over the Petaluma High program, where she is responsible for the junior varsity, varsity, varsity sideline, dance and competition programs.
“The opportunity to create a program at Petaluma was a dream,” she said. “As a former Petaluma cheerleader, it felt right to come back home.”
“Ty is the most genuine, dedicated, inspirational and determined coach I’ve ever had,” said athlete Mary Ryan Christensen. “She’s there for her athletes both on and off the mat. She sets expectations and pushes us to not only be great athletes, but the best version of ourselves we can be. She sees the potential in everyone and goes out of her way to help them however she can.”
With a national championship won, Petaluma High School hopes to be the first high school in the Bay Area to participate in STUNT the Sport, a competitive cheer program that emphasizes skills and technique.
“The sky is the limit. What is being built with this program is nothing short of amazing,” said Humphreys. “Cheerleading is evolving and we are looking to build it up at Petaluma High School.”
FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER
January 22, 2020
Cheerleading is going through a period of evolution. The sport has grown from its “rah rah” sideline roots into a fierce competition between schools to be the best in tumbling, dance, acrobatics and jumps. This, of course, is all in addition to requirements by the athletes to be leaders in the community and school ambassadors.
Saturday, Petaluma High School made cheer history by hosting the first-ever cheer competition at the school since it opened 148 years ago. At the competition, schools from as far as Redding came to Petaluma High to compete for the first-place banner and a bid to World Class Cheer Nationals at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Petaluma High School won the first-place award and Grand Championship of the World Class Cheer Nor-Cal Classic with the highest score of the day, totaling 94.6 out of 100, and earning a bid to this year’s Nationals on Feb. 1.
Also going home with first-place awards were local youth recreational teams from the Petaluma Panthers.
The event showcased the talented athletes we have in Petaluma. The win was especially sweet for one Petaluma High School cheerleader, Hannah Laliberty, who took home first place as both an athlete and a coach. Hannah, like most cheerleaders, spends much of her spare time volunteering in our community. More specifically, Hannah volunteers as a coach for the Petaluma Panther Midget team that won a first-place banner and had the highest score in the Youth Recreational category.
Cheerleaders are some of the most active students in our community. After spending hours at practice, they head over to the local animal shelter or cheer on special needs superstars at Miracle League on a Saturday. Our local cheer teams are always out there in the community practicing their leadership skills.
What makes a cheer competition special is it brings a group of young community leaders together to cheer each other on all while competing against one another. Imagine, a football team cheering for their opponent after they just executed a perfect play advancing them down the field closer to scoring range. That is what a cheer competition is like. There is an understanding and respect cheerleaders have for other teams. It is summarized in the new cheer documentary “CHEER” on Netflix: “Our sport has kind of done this sportsmanship rule where you have to hold your emotions in while they announce second place, and you can’t say anything until they announce first place. It is gut wrenching.” After the competition, its common for teams to congratulate each other, take photos together, or even exchange social media handles. It is a unique practice that ties in with the “leader” part of cheer.
This competition would not have happened without the support of our cheer community, administration, janitorial staff, volunteers and World Class Cheer. Thank you to all who helped us achieve this dream. We are grateful for your support and look forward to next year.
Petaluma High School will host another competition next year to qualify for the World Class Cheer Nationals and will continue to work hard to bring home the most prestigious of awards - the First Place Award from Cheer Nationals on Feb. 1.
(Ty Camacho is Petaluma High School Cheer Director)