James Wood takes second to lead locals at district cheer championships

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WINCHESTER — As some of James Wood’s cheerleaders gathered to talk about their performance following the Class 4 Northwestern District Competition Cheer Championships, Colonels head coach Wendy DeMaio added, “There’s been a lot of obstacles. If I had a list, it would [fill] your whole notepad.”

No one enjoys adversity, but it sure does make those smiles bigger when you overcome it and accomplish something like the Colonels did on Wednesday night at their own Shirley Gymnasium.

James Wood — which only took sixth place out of seven teams at the Class 4 Northwestern District mini competition at Fauquier High School — placed second at the district championships to qualify for next Wednesday’s Region 4C competition at Park View High School in Sterling.

“I feel like that made us want to dig deeper,” said James Wood senior Caroline Partlow of the district mini competition. “I just think it’s really nice to start that low and then come up to where we are now.

“It just makes the whole experience better and it feels like we really did work for it, and we’re really meant to be here.”

The Colonels finished tops among local teams and scored 204 points to finish only behind Kettle Run (226). (Five people judge the competition, and the top and bottom scores are dropped.) Those two as well as third-place Liberty and district mini champion Millbrook will all compete in the region competition.

Sherando barely missed out on a region berth by placing fourth with 199 points, just 0.5 behind third-place Liberty. After a stellar regular season, the Pioneers placed a surprising fifth (194.5). Handley was sixth (191) and Fauquier, which placed second at the district mini, finished seventh with 172.

DeMaio said James Wood’s cheerleaders have battled physical issues like sprained ankles and oral surgery emergencies. The Colonels also had to quarantine for the first week and a half of September, missing eight practice days before returning on the 10th. DeMaio said some of her cheerleaders were hit hard emotionally by the motor vehicle crash death of former Skyline student and athlete Logan Maiataco two days before the district mini.

“This is what our girls have been going through for six weeks,” DeMaio said. “But they came in the gym every day and worked harder and harder, and our scores have gone up and up and up.

“When you come in sixth [at the district mini], you know you’re going to have to work hard. These are good teams. All of them are good. There’s not a bad team in our district. To go from sixth to second means a lot. These girls worked their butts off and brought their best.”

“We had a lot energy and excitement,” senior Khyla Mason said.

Part of James Wood’s work included learning a new routine two days before the Oct. 14 Skyline Invitational, where James Wood placed second. The Colonels then went on to place third this past Saturday at the Fauquier Invitational, which featured all the district schools with the exception of Millbrook and the host Falcons (Fauquier didn’t compete because of injuries). DeMaio said the teams at Fauquier were only separated by a few points.

DeMaio said it also meant a lot to perform so well with the family of former cheerleader Kassi Culp in the stands. Culp — who would have been a senior — died in September of last year. James Wood performed with a posterized cutout picture of her at the front of the mat on Wednesday.

“We’ve dedicated our whole season to her,” DeMaio said. “We really wanted to represent her well. She was a phenomenal cheerleader.”

In addition to winning the district mini, Millbrook came into Wednesday having won competitions at Broadway and Park View and took third at Skyline where the team’s entire pyramid fell. Millbrook coach Dawnette Bowers said the team had been scoring in the 220s and 230s.

Bowers said the Pioneers made some mistakes that they hadn’t made before, and she knew those errors would hurt her team’s execution score on Wednesday. What surprised her was how the difficulty level of the Pioneers’ routine was judged.

“We were scored lower today on our difficulty score, which is the same routine we’ve been doing,” Bowers said. “We got two, three points lower for the same stunts we’ve always done. We’ve always got 14s in difficulty. Today, we got 10s. I’m not exactly sure what happened with that.

“When you put a routine together, the reason we go to the invitationals, and we have the minis, is so you can see how they’re going to be judging. If they always judge me at 14.5 for the difficulty of the stunts I do, and I do that for three competitions, and then the fourth competition they judge me at 10 instead of the 14.5, then I have to wonder what I should have done differently. You hope that as you’re doing your routine and your choreographing, that you’re putting the best thing out there. If I would have been scored 10s to begin with, I would have added more difficulty.”

Overall, Bowers said she was pleased with Millbrook’s performance.

The 1988 James Wood graduate and Wood Hall of Famer has been pleased with what the Pioneers have done throughout the final year of her coaching career. That includes eight years as coach at James Wood before coming to Millbrook, where she’s contributed to the cheerleading program throughout the school’s 19-year history.

“I felt like they sold it and did a good job,” Bowers said. “I’m very proud of them. We’ve been having a great year, and we get to go to regionals. I’m just really enjoying this year. I’ve got a great group.”

Millbrook senior Julianne Pullen said she thought the team performed well, but some of the competition happened to do a little better.

“We definitely had a really good first few comps,” she said. “This one is a little bit of a disappointment, but the other teams earned it.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of practices where we’ll really have to crack down on some things, but by regionals we should be doing pretty good.”

Sherando placed third in the district mini, so the Warriors could have qualified for regions if they matched that performance. Warriors coach Heather Hyatt thought it was a good effort from her team, though.

“I feel like they really put it all out there tonight and tried their hardest,” Hyatt said. “Unfortunately it just wasn’t quite enough tonight. Coming this close, we’ll just try and build off it for next year.”

Handley moved up from taking seventh at the district mini in placing sixth. Judges coach Brooke Ward White said Handley did well at Skyline but stumbled a bit at Fauquier, so she was glad to see her team bounce back.

“They definitely came back and gave it their all this time,” Ward White said. “I’m really excited.”

The following are local selections to the all-district cheer teams that were released on Thursday:

James Wood — First Team: Mason; junior Iliana Martin; senior Emma Groot. Second Team: Partlow; junior Haylee Combs; sophomore Lauren Burkhamer.

Sherando — First Team: senior Annalyn Branham; junior Hailey Lafever; senior Gabriella Cupul Becki. Second Team: junior Calise Billman; junior Kaylee Williamson; sophomore Abigail Butler.

Millbrook — First Team: junior Vanessa Newman; freshman Ava Mannarino; junior Caitlin Rosenberg. Second Team: Pullen; junior Maggie McCarthy; senior Molly Johnson.

Handley — First Team: senior Chantal Chincilla-Romero; junior Kyla Davis. Second Team: sophomore Madeline McCloskey; sophomore Maddison Powers.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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