by Alex Muto
Jenny Vinson, head coach for Town of Niagara Illusions Cheerleaders, recognized the challenges that would face her team as she and a group of her students left the Wheatfield Cheerleaders and formed the Town of Niagara Cheerleaders.
"Starting from scratch can be hard," says Vinson, "especially as a first-year group running over (to a new town)."
However, the coaches' passion for cheerleading and the students' dedication to their craft has made the process a "smooth transition." The cheerleaders have already formed a strong bond and are more than prepared for competition and to serve the community, she said.
Vinson, an accomplished cheerleader and coach, found great success and created great memories with the Town of Wheatfield cheerleaders, but decided the Town of Niagara needed a group as well.
"Last year, I coached with two of my friends, and we were undefeated (in competitions) with the Town of Wheatfield," said Vinson.
Maura Graber, a parent of two Town of Niagara cheerleaders and a co-coordinator for the new group, says that Vinson's success is attributable to her kindness, dedication, and skill from her own history as a cheerleader.
"She is one of those coaches who gives off an air of confidence (together with) a loving nature, and the girls really like that. She's genuinely nice, not fake. She also cheered for years, as an all-star, so she has a lot of experience," Graber said.
Vinson and co-founder Tammy Belstadt began the cheerleading team specifically for the Town of Niagara this past spring.
The new team, which is split into two age-specific groups, practices twice a week and cheers at local events, and will enter competitions this fall. The students practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Veterans Memorial Park on Lockport Road from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The beginner's group is for girls ages 4 to 10 hoping to become competition cheerleaders later on, and the competition group is for older, more experienced students ages 11 to 14.
The girls have learned many routines during practice - dance and cheer routines with stunts and tumbles for competitions and stunts and tumbles for sports events.
Belstadt, who helps with costumes and behind-the-scenes work, explains that the girls have completed community service projects, and taken part in many local events and parades. The group earned third-place honors in Canal Fest, an impressive accomplishment for such a young group. The group has already contributed to the community as well, with maturity beyond their years, according to Belstadt. On Aug. 19, the girls did community service at the Northgate Manor nursing home in Wheatfield.
"The girls talked with the residents, kept them company, and performed. The girls were so grown up throughout the whole thing!" Belstadt said.
The group recently competed at the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival and plans to complete more local service in the near future, as well as perform at Town of Niagara events.
Although fostering teamwork in a new group can be difficult, Vinson, Bell and Graber recognize that the student's kindness and friendship has not only eased the difficulty of transition, but allowed the group dynamic to thrive.
"Many girls followed me over (from the Wheatfield group), and parents and girls have been more than on board to help me out," said Vinson. "The participants have been practicing their routines, and doing bonding parties at each others' houses all the time. It's like a family!"
Jordan Graber, 11, Maura's daughter, participates in the competition team and has only great things to say about the group. "I really have (enjoyed the new team). Jen is an awesome coach," Jordan said. "I have really liked meeting new people that have joined, and making new friends."
In her three years of cheerleading experience, Jordan feels she has never been part of a more talented, unified group.
Belstadt is confident that the girls will succeed in competitions. "Our goal is to travel to nationals out in Myrtle Beach in March," she said.
The non-profit group is still seeking sponsors. For more information on the Illusions, contact Vinson at 716-990-1983.