Williamsport Twisters celebrate 20 years

Family atmosphere motivates cheerleaders

Families are formed in many different ways. At Williamsport Twisters all-star cheerleading, this special bond has been present for 20 years between the parents, cheerleaders and coaches.

“You really get a family not just a cheer team,” said Jersey Shore eighth grader Tyra Lorson, who has been cheering for seven years. “If you need them they are there for you.”

The all-star program places cheerleaders on teams based on age, tumbling, stunting skills and jumps, explained Stacy Ferraro, co-founder. Ferraro began the program with her sister Deena Cooper, who died one and a half years ago from ovarian cancer.

“Deena was the gym,” Ferraro said. “She made this all happen. She called the YMCA in 1999 to see if they had any space or a team. It all started there and continued until 2014 when the new Y structure began. We made do for two years in a Loyalsock elementary gym and then were lucky enough to find this place.” The gym is located at 769 Route 15 Highway, South Williamsport.

“It feels good to know the impact we have on the girls and their families and it goes both ways,” Ferraro said, teary-eyed. “Deena would call them her babies. I knew I could count on them when she passed. All the parents have helped through the years in tremendous ways. It really is like a family.”

“This is why we are very excited to celebrate our 20th year,” Ferraro said. “We plan to do something special in June, possibly a picnic, and invite alumni. Whether someone was with us for 15 years or one year I want to celebrate with all and hear what it meant to them.”

Williamsport Twisters currently has six teams: A tiny novice, age 3- to 6-years-old; mini level 1, age 8 and under; junior 3, age 14 and under; senior 1, ages 11 to 18; a stunt group level 2 that consists of five cheerleaders and a parent team.

“The parent team is just for fun so they can learn what their kids are doing and have the connection,” Ferraro said. “What is unique about our teams is that all our coaches help a little on each one. It’s great to have different perspectives and they have certainly helped me through tough times.”

All the coaches are Twisters alumni and include Jenn Mowrey, Caitlin Walburn and Bri Confer. The two volunteer coaches are Abby Knapsack and Maria Mondell. Mowrey was on the original team in 2000 and now has a daughter on the mini team.

“Stacy coached me in junior high,” Mowrey said. “The sport has changed immensely but the atmosphere of family and good morals at the gym is still the same. The parents all closely support each other. I like that the older athletes are role models for the younger ones like my daughter. Though money can be a big obstacle for people we have scholarships and families that help each other with the cost.”

Fundraising coordinator is Billie Jean Tyler, of Montoursville, who’s 9-year-old daughter is on the mini team.

“A lot of local business help with our fundraisers including FNB Bank and Advanced Auto for car washes, Sam’s Club for burger burns, Terri’s whoopie pies and Helminiak’s flowers. “We do lots of fundraising,” Tyler explained. “But you have to participate for it to help.”

Parents pay a gym fee and competition fee and are responsible for travel and hotel stays at competitions. Uniforms are purchased every three to five years.

Tyler wanted a year-round sport for her daughter, who has “energy by the bucket full.” “She has been doing dance and tumbling since she was 3 and this is a nice combination,” Tyler added. “The families cart each others’ kids to practices and parades. It’s nice to build relationships with other parents. We send group texts and all stay in the same hotel at competitions. That way the experience is so unique for the girls. No one wants to be isolated.”

“When we go to a big competition we have a team dinner,” Desierre Higley, of Sullivan County, said. Her daughter Kayla Higley is a seventh grader and participates as a back, base and flyer on two teams. “When we started six years ago she could only do back walkovers and now she’s doing lay-outs and starting twists. It’s a really great team-building experience for the kids. It’s very challenging athletically and the kids have a lot of fun.”

Kayla said her favorite competition is in Ohio because there is lots of team bonding.

“We pump each other up at practice and at competitions,” she said. “When I feel I can’t talk to my family I have a close bond with the girls in the gym.” Practices are three times a week for two hours.

Lorson explained, “When I was a flyer I would get really nervous before competitions but now it goes away because we are doing what we practiced 1,000 times.”

The gym tries to combine local and bigger competitions because the experience is priceless. Twisters travels up and down the East Coast to New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia and Ohio and through Pennsylvania. Placements will be held at the gym for the new season on May 18.

“Cheering has changed so much,” Ferraro added. “There are different divisions and levels which is nice because it gives every girl who wants to cheer a chance. The progression is much safer than it used to be also and is headed in a positive direction. Tumbling used to be only a back handspring. The growth of the sport is just, Wow!”

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