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How Cheerleaders Manage the Student-Athlete Flip

Jay Kass
The Suffolk Cheer team performs a routine with SUNY Suffolk mascot Finn. (Compass News/Jay Kass)

The Suffolk County Community College Cheer team has wrapped up their season. Compass News caught up with four of the cheerleaders: Payton Rhodes, Gianna Lacasse, Gianna Scolaro, and Jada Morales to discuss their highlights of the season and how it was like balancing life between cheerleading and being a student-athlete. 

“It was a lot of work,” said Payton Rhodes, a freshman currently taking prerequisites to an ultrasound technician program. “My anatomy class used to end at 4:45 in the Brentwood campus and I would have practice [at Ammerman] at 5:30, so I would have to rush over,” Rhodes said. She said she had to learn how to manage her time, make sure that she planned everything out, and gave herself enough time to study or do homework.  

“I tried to make a routine around my work schedule and then cheer schedule. And then I just fit homework around that and then studied when I can. But having a routine helps,” said Gianna LaCasse, a freshman liberal arts major from Medford who also had long commutes from the Brentwood to Selden Campus.

Both LaCasse and Rhodes attended classes in the Brentwood campus of Suffolk and commuted to the Ammerman campus in Selden afterwards. “It was awful,” Rhodes said. Since it was during the 5:00 rush hour, Rhodes would sit in traffic for 40 minutes to get to practice. “It was difficult,” LaCasse said, sharing a similar experience to Rhodes. “It was a nice 30-minute drive in the morning and then there was traffic. So, it did not help at all.” Despite the long commute to campus, Rhodes says that it was worth it because she really did enjoy cheer.  

The cheerleaders also had to balance work on top of being a student-athlete. Jada Morales, a sophomore nursing major from Bellport, said that some days she would have work then practice immediately after. “It was a little stressful getting to practice on time, sometimes it ran late at work, and I couldn’t make it exactly on time to practice,” Morales said. “I really just try to stay on top of my work as best as possible. I carve out time to study and time to practice.”   

Throughout the season, the cheerleaders formed strong bonds with one another. Rhodes said that the team chemistry was really good, and the girls got along well. 

“We were all able to communicate with each other, tell each other what we needed, give each other constructive criticism and no one was ever offended,” Rhodes said. “Everybody always knew that we just wanted the best as a team… a team is not just individual people, it’s individuals working together. And I feel like we understood that very well. And it made us improve a lot because we had great chemistry.”  

“I like going to games and doing team bonding stuff with my teammates,” Morales said. “Like, we’re usually at someone’s house and we play a bonding activity that we find online or something.” 

For Rhodes, cheerleading helped her break out of her comfort zone. “It’s very intimidating going into any sort of environment in college when you don’t know people. I feel like it’s so hard to make friends when you’re older,” Rhodes said. “I was scared because I haven’t been to college before obviously,” LaCasse said. “But when I joined the cheer team I made new friends so I was able to have new bonds and they were able to show me around the school.”  

Rhodes added: “I loved the games, I loved the clinics, I loved the team itself. We were all very close, we all had a great bond.”

The cheerleaders perform stunts to entertain the crowd during basketball games. Rhodes has been a base for most of her life, but since she’s shorter than most of her teammates, she switched to flyer. “It was a little scary, but it was very fun. Everyone made it comfortable for me and let me know that it was my first year back so just do what I’m comfortable with,” Rhodes said. “What went through my mind was just to remind myself to do my job and to make sure that I’m always looking good and presentable in the air.”  

“You have to really be concentrating on what you’re doing. And make sure you’re following technique and only thinking of the stunt,” LaCasse said. “You have to have a clear mind.”

There is one thing in particular that the cheerleaders are looking forward to next season: nationals. They hope to get back on the UCA Nationals mat in January 2025.  “I am 100% looking forward to going to nationals because we couldn’t go this year,” Rhodes said. Head coach Gina Caputo is trying to get the girls to learn harder and more difficult skills in order to accomplish that, Scolaro said. “I’m looking forward to going to nationals next season, we’re working really hard to recruit more people, so our team is bigger,” Morales said. 

To recruit more people, the cheerleaders would post on social media. On the Suffolk Cheer account, they’ll post whenever there’s new clinics and tryouts, then they “would post that on our stories and then people from our high school teams would reach out to us” so the cheerleaders would ask about the cheer team,” Rhodes said. Coach Caputo is also going out to high school competitions to recruit more cheerleaders, Morales said. 

Rhodes says that Suffolk Cheer is a welcoming environment. “It is such a calm and relaxing environment that you’re able to do what you love to do. You’re able to get better and you make friends, it’s great all around.” 

“If anyone is looking to do a sport, they should definitely reach out of their comfort zone a little bit. Get into the sport, and they’ll be so happy that they did.” 

If you’re interested in joining the SUNY Suffolk Cheer team, visit @sunysflkcheer on Instagram for more information.

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About the Contributors
Connor Yee Kee
Connor Yee Kee, Managing Editor
Connor Yee Kee is a freshman journalism major at SUNY Suffolk. He is the managing editor of Compass News.
Jay Kass
Jay Kass, Multimedia Editor
Jay Kass is the multimedia editor of the Compass News, majoring in journalism. After Suffolk, she wants to go to Stony Brook University to obtain a bachelor's in journalism, or get a cosmetology degree at Navda Tech in the city to learn how to create crazy hair looks. Kass hopes to become a travel journalist to spread awareness of different cultures.

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