I begged my parents to sign me up for cheerleading when I was 1o.

And they gave in.

I remember my first uniform well; it consisted of an itchy wool sweater, a pleated polyester skirt and a pair of saddle shoes that didn’t quite fit.

For me, cheerleading consisted of shaking pom poms on the sidelines of youth football games, and then going to competition.

Competition was a big deal. We spent hours each week practicing, perfecting our cartwheels, shoulder sits and pyramids to create a memorable performance to get that gold medal.

It’s 27 years later, and youth cheerleading sure has changed. Uniforms are now engineered for comfort and safety, and sneakers have replaced saddle shoes. Today’s cheerleaders are performing intricate tumbling passes not all that dissimilar from those you might have seen at the Olympic Games in Rio.

The apparel, along with the sport, has evolved tremendously.

That’s right, I said “sport.”

The State of New York recognized scholastic cheerleading as an official sport in 2014.

And Bay Shore High School was the first school on Long Island to host the NYSPHSAA Long Island Regional, which was held in February of 2015. High Schools from across the state attended.

But cheer in the Bay Shore community begins as early as 5 years old. That’s according to youth-league coordinators Kelly Campo and Tracey Kubik, who says approximately 100 girls are enrolled in the Bay Shore Youth Cheerleading Program this year, ranging from 5 to 13.

This is family affair. The cheerleaders, with the help of their parents, hosted a car wash fundraiser at the Fifth Avenue School on Saturday, raising money to help pay for apparel and choreography fees, as well as an end-of-season awards celebration.

The Bay Shore Youth cheerleaders, under the direction of commissioner Grace Voges, will also host a competition at Bay Shore High School on Oct. 30. 

Participation in any youth sports program is a way for children to build the skills needed to succeed as high school athletes. For cheerleading, this is so much more than smiles and poise; it’s about jumps, stunts, tumbling, and performing each of these skills safely.

Perhaps nobody knows the importance of this better than Lisa Wilson, the former owner of New York Cheer All Stars who has over 25 years of youth, high school and All Star coaching experience on Long Island.

Wilson will begin as head coach of Bay Shore’s Varsity cheerleaders this week. 

Campo is confident that Wilson’s influence will help to unite the high school and youth programs, as many of the youth cheerleading coaches are high school cheerleaders who got their own start wearing maroon and white at 5 years old. 

High school cheerleader and youth league coach Emily Kubik, for one, is excited for Wilson’s appointment. She looks forward to attending her high school practices and working with her team again this year, and she knows that Wilson will support doing both.

The youth cheerleaders depend on the highsSchool cheerleaders to volunteer their time as coaches.

“There’s nothing like seeing a little kid’s face when their varsity cheerleader comes to practice and they help them master that forward roll or that stunt,” Campo said.

Wilson is excited to be coaching a high school team again.

She previously led the North Babylon varsity team to multiple local, regional and national cheerleading competitions before opening New York Cheer in the early 2000s.

“So much has changed in high school cheerleading,” Wilson said.

“It’s going to be a learning experience.”

Greaterbayshore.com contributor Mary Donnelly is also the Education Chairperson of the New York State Cheerleading Judges Association.

She has been coaching and judging youth and high school cheerleading on Long Island since 1996.