PHS cheerleaders fare ‘well’ at nationals

Tony Parra

The Portales Lady Rams cheerleading team’s first trip to the United Cheerleader Association’s national high school competition for the senior girls led to a 25th-place showing out of 63 teams on Feb. 7 – 8 in Orlando, Fla.
“We did real well, considering our resources,” James Villanueva, first-year varsity cheerleading coach, said. “Other schools have a cheerleading coach and a choreographer. Their (Portales girls) goal was to hit their routine and they did that. I was impressed with how they (Portales girls) performed.”
The Lady Rams competed in the medium high school varsity level and fell seven spots short of advancing to the semi-finals. The Lady Rams were in Group A of the preliminaries. Only the top 18 teams advanced to the semi-finals competition on Sunday.
“People were surprised to hear we were from New Mexico,” Beth Birnie, senior varsity cheerleader, said. “They never heard of Portales. They (other teams in their division) are so good. we looked up to the higher squads and that pushed us to work harder.”
Easton Area High School in Pennsylvania won the competition for the medium varsity level. Easton High School had an enrollment of 2,440 students in a city of 26,263 people, according to the 2000 census. Portales High School has 661 students.
“We did very well against the other competition,” Ashlea Sink, senior cheerleader, said. “It’s hard for us to compete against other schools from other states because of the NMAA (New Mexico Activities Association). There are limits to what we can do that other schools in Florida and New York are able to do. We can’t do elite stunts that they (NMAA) think are too dangerous.”
The Lady Rams finished third place in the state in their division to advance to the national competitions.
Villanueva, first-year Portales cheerleading coach, said that the girls took in the national championship competitions on Sunday and the younger girls were able to learn from the experience.
“Dana Nance learned new tumbling skills and performed them that day,” Villanueva said. “The freshman girls were really strong. All our young girls will be going to summer camps. It’s a year-round thing.”
The three seniors may not be able to make a return trip last year, but hope that other members will pick up on the leadership void left from their departure.
“We’re more than happy with how we performed,” Sink said. “We had fun. I think it was the first time the Portales cheerleaders had been to something like this since the ‘80s or ‘90s when they were in the NCA (National Cheerleading Association) competitions.”
He said the girls went through a light practice on Friday and went through a two-hour practice in the morning of Saturday’s competition. The fans focused on the girls when they went on stage at 2:45 p.m. for their performance.
The cheerleaders will be competing in one more competition this year when they travel to play in the state tournament in Albuquerque on March 26 and 27.