Team Rage, the Under 17 Level 2 team took first place in the Canadian Cheer National Championship.

PORT HAWKESBURY: A local cheer group has more awards for its trophy case after two teams took national honours recently.

On the weekend of May 8-9, members of Richmond Cheer Athletic competed virtually in the Canadian Cheer National Championship in Niagara Falls, Ontario against teams from across the country.

“We were supposed to go last year and it got cancelled,” said Richmond Cheer co-owner Jackie Molloy-Samson. “We were literally packing and getting ready to leave on Friday, when everything locked down on Monday. This year, we had the opportunity to do it virtually, and we said, ‘yeah, we’re doing it.’”

Based in their headquarters in the Port Hawkesbury Business Park, Richmond Cheer Athletics has 30 members from Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness, and Richmond counties spread among four teams, including the Mini Performance Team for those ages 5-8.

At the national competition, the Under 12 Prep team finished second overall, while the Under 17 Level 1 and Level 2 teams were named national champs.

Allison Kehoe, coach of both Under 17 teams, said they submitted videos to the nationals of their best performance over the past year. When they found out they won, she was pleasantly surprised since they had little footage to choose from after the province was locked-down.

“We were able to go live in our gym and it would be broadcast with other teams in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, on a livestream,” she explained. “We had videos from our couple of performances we did over the livestream. We just had to take one with of the best runs that we already did early in the season and we sent those to the Canadian nationals.”

Although they were very successful, Kehoe said they couldn’t get together to celebrate.

“All I wanted to do was see their faces and see their reactions to being national champions,” she said. “I just wanted hug them all and tell them, ‘good job,’ so that was hard. That’s something that we’re definitely trying to figure out how to navigate in these crazy.”

When Richmond Cheer started their season last July, they were only allowed to have 10 team members in a practice space at a given time.

“We were allowed to have practice,” Molloy-Samson noted. “We kept our teams low enough so that we could actually have practice with them in the gym. We weren’t really bothered right up until now, when they shut down. We weren’t bothered a whole lot.”

Noting that the squad had no live competitions this year, Molloy-Samson said they used “Replay Box” where teams do their thing and are viewed by judges.

Although they were limited, Molloy-Samson said they participated in a competition out of New Brunswick, one from Sydney, and another based in Halifax. She said Richmond Cheer also took part in “The League” where teams battle it out against teams that are deemed to be in their level.

“We put a GoPro up, a camera, and when they tell us it’s our turn, we go up and they can actually watch us live right from our gym,” she explained.

Because of public health measures, no live competitions took place, and parents were not permitted to attend practices at their facility across from Canso Ford in Port Hawkesbury.

“One day, it was nice enough that we have bay doors in our gym, so we just lifted up the doors and we let the parents watch from outside, with their masks on, social distance, but that was the only one they got to watch over than virtual,” Molloy-Samson said. “For the kids it was a big downer because they like the crowd, they like to perform for people. But you know what, they did fantastic this year. With the circumstances we had, they did awesome.”

Kehoe said it was difficult for members of Richmond Cheer, as well as their parents.

“When you’re just looking at a camera and you’re performing, versus performing in front of all of your family and friends, and a whole stadium full of people, that’s different,” she said. “It’s hard for the parents too because they’re used to coming and seeing what’s going on, and watching their kid out their performing, doing what they love to do. I’m happy that they all decided to stick with it, the kids and the parents. It’s been a very tough year.”

There were a number of rules for athletes and coaches, Malloy-Samson said.

“We had a questionnaire each time an athlete walked into the gym,” she said. “When coaches walked into the gym, they had to fill out a questionnaire. They had to wear their mask, that was a rule. It wasn’t mandatory for them to wear a mask but I kept it as a rule. I’d rather be safe than sorry. For the most part, they would come in one door, and go out the other door. So that we could have other kids come in, we’d have to take about 20 minutes to clean the gym between each team.”

Malloy-Samson said the season normally starts in June but Richmond Cheer won’t continue the current season, instead they plan on starting a new season since the remaining competitions are expected to be completed.

“We had a really good year,” she stated. “Because of the Replay Box and the virtual that we were able to send in videos, we’re doing a competition out of BC on the weekend, all virtual. It will give us an opportunity to be able to show are talent all across Canada. It’s been awesome.”

Kehoe added that registration for season 14 will take place this summer, so she asked that those interested, keep an eye out for the upcoming dates.