Franklin Regional spirit team celebrates PIAA performance

Monday, February 5, 2018 | 11:00 PM

Second-year Franklin Regional competitive cheer coordinator Olivia Heidenfelder is all about making an impression — literally.

Being athletic and knowing the routines are one thing, but when it comes to tryouts, one has to impress the former Norwin and Pitt cheerleader to earn a spot on the team, because, after all, if one can't impress Heidenfelder their chances of impressing the judges aren't very good.

“When I'm putting together a team, I'm looking for someone, first and foremost, who will represent the school as a sideline cheerleader,” Heidenfelder said. “Everybody by the end of a basketball and football games should say, ‘Wow, I really like Franklin Regional.' That should be the impressions.”

It seems Heidenfelder's strategy is working. After Heidenfelder's first season in which they were trying to work out the kinks and move the program forward in baby steps, the Panthers took a giant leap forward. They placed fourth in the WPIAL to earn their first trip to the PIAA competitive spirit championships last month. Franklin Regional finished seventh in the small school division with a score of 75.33.

“It's definitely a difficult section, and the fact they were able to make it through sections was a feat in itself,” Heidenfelder said. “They didn't even think they'd make it that far.”

The WPIAL boasts some of the top spirit teams in the state, with the top two teams in the small school division being Shaler and Bethel Park. In all, the WPIAL had five schools finish in the top seven, including Hampton and Pine-Richland.

“It's very competitive,” Heidenfelder said. “Its something that you just can't start and pick it up. It's a pretty crazy sport, but you love the competition.”

Nobody could have anticipated the Franklin Regional competitive cheer program would take off so fast when Heidenfelder took over as the program's first coordinator almost two years ago, but it has. Through a tough tryout process, Heidenfelder has created a competitive environment and established a standard. She wants jumpers. She wants tumblers. But most of all, Heidenfelder wants enthusiasm.

“They do everything, and they're at every sporting event,” she said. “I think that's the reason why they made it so far. They spend a lot of time together, and that element of our team this year was really strong.”

Heidenfelder got a hunch this year's team might be special when one of her seniors came off the mat after a performance and said, “I think we have something really special here.”

Those words were music to Heidenfelder's ears. It was at that moment her team finally realized its potential.

“Now, they're expecting to get there every year,” Heidenfelder said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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