WPIAL to crown first competitive spirit champion Saturday
The North Allegheny cheerleading squad is no stranger to high-level competition — or to success and accolades.
But come Saturday, the Tigers have an opportunity to be awarded something they've never had a chance to attain: A WPIAL championship.
North Allegheny is one of 25 schools, split into three enrollment classifications, that will compete in the inaugural WPIAL competitive spirit championships Saturday at North Hills High School.
“Our team is excited for it because I think for the student body and the school, it legitimizes the sport a little more,” North Allegheny coach Courtenay Carrel said. “Especially since we've never had this. The football team, they win a WPIAL championship and go onto the state championship, most of the student body, they get that and understand what that means to the school. Our team, too.”
As North Hills athletic director Dan Cardone put it, “You're competing for a WPIAL championship. That's always meant something.”
Eighteen of the teams competing Saturday also will earn the opportunity to compete for a PIAA championship.
The seven top-scoring schools in Class AAA, top two in Class AA and top three in Class A are guaranteed PIAA championship berths. Of the remaining schools, regardless of classification, the top six will also qualify to compete Feb. 2 at the Giant Center in Hershey.
With the sport only recently recognized by PIAA, WPIAL officials did not know how many schools from each enrollment class would enter a team. As a result, classifications are unbalanced — 14 are in Class AAA, four in Class AA and seven in Class A.
“The (WPIAL) board felt it was much more fair for schools to compete with schools of similar size, just like in everything else,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said.
O'Malley said the PIAA approved cheerleading for a statewide championship last spring. It initially intended on hosting a competition open to any school that wished to enter before realizing the event would draw more than the maximum number of teams permitted.
That left the task of determining qualifiers up to individual districts, which were each given a number of slots to fill as they saw fit.
Judges will be provided by the Universal Cheerleaders Association. Carrel, who works for UCA, said scoring will incorporate all forms of cheerleading: Stunting, pyramids, tumbling, jumps, dance and traditional cheer.
Teams composed of five to 30 members will perform a presentation including at least one cheer or sideline chant, as well as a musical portion not exceeding 1 minute, 30 seconds. Entire routines will be limited to 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
“A lot of practice goes into that two-and-a-half minutes, that's for sure,” Carrel said.
North Allegheny has qualified for the Universal Cheerleaders Association national high school championships the past eight years, finishing as a finalist five times in the previous seven appearances.
Now, it can win a WPIAL title.
“There's a lot of interest for the sport in this area and in the state,” Carrel said. “I wouldn't be surprised if there's more than 50 teams next year, once word gets out and there's time to prepare. But for now, there's (25) teams that are really excited to be the first-ever WPIAL champion. We'll find out who Saturday.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.