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Franklin High Varsity Cheer Goes to Nationals this Month

Franklin Varsity Cheer will head down to a national competition in Orlando on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). The states-winning team will give their all in a two-day competition starting March 19th.

By Judith Dorato O’Gara
Franklin Varsity Cheer will head to the AmeriCheer international competition at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida this month, a move proved by the town of Franklin’s school committee at the end of January. 
“They’re super excited, they’ve worked very hard, and they’ve been dreaming of going to nationals for a long time. It’s not for every team to go whenever they want, but it’s because they won the state title, says Karalyn Remillard, Cheer Booster president, who has two daughters on the team. The Varsity Cheer team won the Hockomock League Championship November 7th, followed by a win at states at Worcester State University on November 21st.  
The team looks slightly different from the one that won in the fall. In that season, the cheerleaders cheer at football games, and they also compete, doing intense stunting, tumbling and pyramids, for example. The competition, says Remillard, takes it to a higher level in the sport, which falls under the guidelines of the MSSAA. In the winter season, the cheerleaders cheer at basketball games as well as take part in five competitions.
The last time Franklin Varsity Cheer went to nationals was five years ago. This year, Franklin will go to nationals along with other Hockomock League towns Milford, Attleboro and Foxboro.
“This year, it’s just a really good group of kids and the competition was very fierce,” says Coach Doni Gill, regarding the state competition. Gill has coached three Franklin Varsity Cheer teams to their wins at the state championship, which, she says, is the biggest personal reward for her. 
Gill notes that teams competing at states were all very good. Of the top teams, she says, “All those teams honestly could slip in and win. It’s very competitive, but all those teams are right on our heels.” Winning, however, “always feels good, not gonna lie,” says Gill.
What was even more impressive, says Gill, was that Franklin Varsity Cheer had two injuries the week of the state championship. “We knew we could do it, and we knew we had to be on our game, but losing those people was rough,” she says. 
Gill’s athletes put in the time to be on top of their game. 
“We practice five days a week, with 2-3 hours of practice, working on a two-and-a-half-minute routine compiled of jumps, tumbling and stunts. The girls, also, besides those five days of practice, spend one of those days at a gym facility to work on their tumbling,” says Gill. 
The competition, she notes, “gives no second chances. You have two-and-a-half minutes to hit, with no do-overs and no start overs. Sometimes it’s fantastic; sometimes it’s not.”
Cheer competition has changed since Gill herself participated. 
“It is completely different today,” says Gill, who cheered in high school in Maryland in the 1980s, cheered for the New England Patriots Cheerleaders from 1997 to 2002, then coached in Grafton from 2006-2015, taking that team to win six state championships. “I probably wouldn’t make the cheerleading team today,” says Gill. “It’s just so athletic now, with multiple jumps. Most of my kids are gymnasts, do stunts. The endurance–you have to build.” All of her athletes, in fact, run a mile or so before every practice for conditioning. 
“A lot of hard work that goes into it that people don’t really realize,” says Gill, who was grateful that this year’s team bonded so well. 
“They’re just a tight group of kids, they just really get along,” says Gill, noting that a lot of them have been together since cheering in Pop Warner or doing gymnastics in their youth. Her captains, Ally Remillard and Shannon O’Duggan (and in the fall, Lindsay O’Brien), have been active in building team rapport with various activities for the group, which spans from freshmen to seniors. They get the team members started and going if Gill needs to work 1:1 with anyone.
“My captains are wonderful,” says Gill. “They take charge when things are going bad or going great. Their leadership is really fantastic.”
This group of students, she says, puts the work in. Luck has nothing to do with it.
“It doesn’t just happen,” says Gill. “It’s the work they put in at practice, the skills and the players coming together, and choreography helps. (The coaches) clean these routines, try to make it look effortless, and that takes a lot of time.”
The team will head down to the competition on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), with the two-day competition starting March 19th.
“Nationals is a great experience, and it’s going to be exciting to compete with other teams in the nation,” says Gill, who says she plans to research videos of the teams the group will go up against once she knows exactly who the competition will be. “I think the competition is going to be really fierce, but it’s exciting to learn what’s out there. I think (the team) can get a lot from that.”