NORWALK, Conn. – Thirty-two Norwalk girls are jumping at the chance to go Florida this week. They will also dance, flip and cheer as they head to Kissimmee for the American Youth Football cheerleading championships.
The Norwalk Packers cheerleaders, who are in grades 6 to 8, have been practicing as many as five days a week since August. The team earned the trip to Florida by finishing third in a regional competition last month in Providence, R.I. The cheerleaders were also the grand champions in the Colonial Football Conference championships in October, meaning they were the top team among all the various age groups. The group is part of the Norwalk Athletic Association.
“It’s a really fast-paced routine,’’ said Myah Sims, 13, who has been on the team for six years. “It consists of cheer stunts, and then we move to partner stunts and jumps. It’s very energetic.”
Due to a coaching shortage, coaches combined teams to create a large squad. Most teams have 20 girls. “We have a bigger team and we’re more experienced,’’ said Hailey Parisi, 12, who has been with the team for four years. “Plus we have incredible coaches. We all worked together.”
Norwalk’s all-volunteer coaching staff includes Nina Ruffin, Leslie Zullo, Kelcie Wehmhoff, Cori Iannazzo and Diane Aguiar. They have been working with the girls since August, when they practiced five nights a week. They have streamlined practices to three or four per week since school started.
The girls have trained at Brien McMahon High School, Tracey Elementary and a few other venues in the city. They started the season practicing outdoors at Fox Run School.
“I never thought we’d make it this far,’’ said Jordyn Lewis, 13, “It’s so exciting to make it to nationals. Usually the furthest we’ve been able to get is regionals.”
Most of the girls have cheerleading experience, but some new ones have come aboard. “It’s been fun for me,’’ said Lilly Fosella, who is in her second year with the Packers. “It’s like a big family.”
Kayla Light and Iman LaBorde-Mobley, two first-year members of the Packers, said they appreciate the instruction from the coaches and the team’s veterans. “We’ve had to learn to work with each other,’’ LaBorde-Mobley said. Light added: "To make it to nationals in my first year with this team is an amazing experience."
The girls are the first cheerleading team from Norwalk to advance to nationals since 2007. Ruffin was also a coach on the 2006 team.
The team held a fundraising dinner at Chatham Manor on Saturday. Readers can make contributions online .
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