Attacking the competition

Fishtown Sharks take first place and named grand champion at national tournament in A.C.

Taking a bite out of the competition: The Fishtown Sharks celebrate after winning first place and being named grand champions at a national competition in Atlantic City. PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLY MCDADE

By Melissa Komar

The season was supposed to end in April for cheerleaders of the 14 and under Fishtown Great White Sharks, but their hunger to compete won out.

The squad competed at the National Spirit Tournament at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City on Sunday, May 6, and the results were fierce.

According to team mom Kelly McDade, the team won first place in its division, Junior Recreation Traditional, out of four teams and was crowned grand champions of the entire recreation traditional division out of nine teams, with zero deductions.

“The season was supposed to end two weeks prior, but they still had so much fight left in them to get that first place,” said McDade, who has a 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter on the squad. “Changing a routine in two practices and going out on a national floor with kids who are so young and bringing home first was a huge deal. Then, to get grand champs was an even bigger deal.”

Despite changing their routine in only two practices, there was no a doubt in the minds of the coaching staff the team would rise to the occasion.

“This group of kids is determined and confident and nothing holds them back from achieving their goals,” said Katie Marie Nieves, one of three coaches along with Katelyn Adamson and Melissa Howard. “I have coached most of these kids for years and I know what they are capable of and their limits. Taking on nationals in A.C., there was never a doubt in my mind that these kids could not handle it. I knew how bad they wanted to come out on top and these kids were not going to stop until they proved to the judges how amazing they are.”

The determination of the cheerleaders to win was born out of coming up short at another national competition, according to Nieves.

“After hitting a perfect routine and placing third at Hershey nationals, I knew they deserved better,” she said. “I didn’t want their season to end with a third place. They received second and third all year and third was not how they wanted to finish our season.”

A last-minute decision also meant finding last-minute funds for the trip, but again, the team would not let any obstacle stand in its way.

“Since the idea of continuing the season was only thrown around about 10 days prior to the competition, parents were given the option to either pay out of pocket, which was $78 per child for competition fees or to coin drop,” McDade said. “Those who coin dropped the weekend prior to competition both days at Port Richmond village for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday were able to cover all of their child’s competition fees except $5.”

And, while the titles come at a cost, both financially and mentally, the squad got to bring home some hardware: Each cheerleader received a ring, and the team received a trophy and two banners.

For McDade, watching her children and their teammates win was overwhelming, but seeing the organization grow is even more rewarding.

“I have watched this organization grow literally from the ground up. When it was formed three years ago and we had about 20 kids, I never dreamed that it would be as big as it is today,” she said. “Some of them were barely able to do a cartwheel at the beginning of the season, and now they’re throwing back tucks. These kids definitely proved hard work and dedication pay off.”

Indeed, winning was an affirmation of the time the squad had put in all season, according to Nieves.

“Hearing ‘First Place Division Champs’ was the victory we waited all year to hear and ‘Grand National Champions’ was the added bonus of reassurance these kids can absolutely do anything they set their minds to,” she said. “I always say to them before they compete, ‘The coaches’ job is to give you a winning routine, now it is your job to perform it,’ and, these kids did exactly that.”