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WPIAL teams collect cheerleading titles

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

More than 300 teenage girls gathered at North Hills High School on Saturday afternoon.

No, it wasn't for a Justin Bieber concert, but for the inaugural WPIAL competitive spirit championship.

In the sport's first year of being sanctioned by the WPIAL, Pine-Richland took home the Class AAA crown, while Hopewell won in Class AA and Neshannock in Class A.

“It feels amazing, especially because you're competing against your peers” Pine-Richland coach Danielle Hitson said. “We go to nationals every year and we compete nationally, but when you're competing against your peers it makes all the difference.”

The top seven finishers from Class AAA, top two in Class AA and three in Class A along with the following top six additional scoring teams in any classification advanced to the PIAA championships on Feb. 2 at the Giant Center in Hershey.

Rounding out the top seven automatic qualifiers in Class AAA behind Pine Richland were Shaler, Butler, North Allegheny, Montour, North Hills and Norwin. Additionally, Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and Franklin Regional also will represent the WPIAL in Hershey after scoring well enough to qualify.

In Class AA, South Fayette qualified as the runner-up behind Hopewell; West Shamokin and Indiana also advanced. In Class A, Bishop Canevin and Laurel qualified behind Neshannock, and Eden Christian Academy also will compete at Giant Center.

While Bishop Canevin was not able to win the Class AA title, it took great pride in its runner-up performance, given the circumstances.

“It means a lot because we didn't have a coach and we only had about a week to prepare this,” Bishop Canevin senior captain Kara Cinker said. “We just had the seniors making up the routine. We didn't have a choreographer, so it was kind of hard for us but we pulled it all together.”

Danielle Lageman, who temporarily stepped in as Bishop Canevin's coach before the championship meet, said even though this is the first year cheerleading has been recognized in the area as an official sport, it has always meant a lot within the school.

“At Bishop Canevin, cheerleading has always been very important,” Lageman said. “In fact, these girls won a national championship in Florida in 2010. This has been important to them because now we're a recognized sport that we thought we were all along. This just confirms that.”

Each team was graded on two components of its performance: the cheer portion and a music segment. Teams were scored out of a possible 100 points on categories such as partner stunts, pyramids, tumbling, presentation of material and execution.

While only in its first year as a WPIAL sport, Hitson believes cheerleading is flourishing.

“Western Pennsylvania especially is huge (in cheerleading), and I think now the WPIAL is finally realizing that it's more of a sport than a recreational thing,” she said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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