St. Mary's wins co-ed cheer title while still trying to win over fans

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DENVER • Forget the sideline. On this night, cheerleaders took center stage.

In a performance of pageantry, not to mention physicality and grace, St. Mary’s stole the show in the 2A/3A co-ed cheerleading classification, winning its third consecutive state title at the Denver Coliseum Saturday night.

The Pirates proved victorious in the two-day event with a score of 77.65. Coal Ridge was second at 72.85, followed by Bayfield (65.15) and Salida (60.50).

“These girls and guys train really hard,” St. Mary’s coach Marian Bukowski said. “They put in hours of training, even during the summer. They’re just really serious about it.”

Spirit’s annual championship also serves as cheerleading’s yearly call for validation, that – yes, cheerleading is a sport, and no, it is not a sideshow. The Pirates made their case with a 2 ½ minute acrobatic routine they believe spoke for itself.

“Obviously people have a bad perception that cheerleading is not a sport,” senior Mia Bukowski said. “Our school has transitioned into thinking that this is a real sport. This is hard.”

Just a week ago, coach Bukowski said her team got a chance to prove themselves when they invited the school’s basketball team to train with them for a day.

The fourth-year coach said the workout included a mile run and a series of exercises focused on endurance, flexibility and strength. After that, she said, the hoops team extended the cheerleaders an invitation to join them for one of their practices.

“I think there are still people within our school who don’t recognize it as a real sport,” coach Bukowski said. “We’re really trying to change that culture.”

Winning should help. Sitting on the stage floor along with the other spirit finalists, the Pirates jumped into the air with a loud scream when they were announced the winner. First-year cheerleader Matt Haines, the team’s lone male participant, high-fived his teammates as they made their way to the trophy presentation.

The senior baseball player, who said he’s added 15 pounds of muscle since joining cheer, called the journey strenuous and, above all, eye-opening.

“This conditioning is probably the hardest conditioning I’ve ever done,” Haines said.

He added with a smirk: “Football, they probably don’t do anything compared to what we do. They may lift but they don’t run as much as we do.”

Lewis-Palmer finished fourth in 4A with 75.45 points. Sand Creek was fifth at 71.65.

Vista Ridge took third in 4A/5A co-ed cheer at 83.25.