Although she was recognized last year as the best cheerleader in the Northeast, Jessica Mescall did not have the opportunity to defend her title this year.
And although her nationally ranked squad from Frontier High School received the grand champion trophy last year at the National Cheerleaders Association Northeast Championship, this year they did not compete.
"We were planning on going to Albany," said Lisa Goodberry, a captain. "We won last year and we were going to win again this year."
Although the squad has competed in Albany the last several years, this time a paperwork mistake kept them home. The group planned to travel to Albany and back on the day of the competition, Feb. 28. Not only had they been practicing since July, but they also spent hours raising money to cover travel and expenses.
For the girls on the squad, cheerleading is no frivolous pastime. Like varsity athletes from any sport, many of them plan to continue competing in college. And, like other high-caliber athletes, they trained for months with a championship looming as a chance to prove their ability again.
They learned just a few days before the competition they would not be going.
Any student trip outside Erie County requires approval by the Board of Education, according to Stanley J. Figiel, board president. When it came to approving the cheerleading trip, the paperwork was not filed in time for the board to vote on it, he said.
"Normally in a situation like this, if you have everything in place, it probably would have been approved, but the paperwork was not there for us to do it," he said.
For the Frontier cheerleaders, staying home from the competition meant missing the chance to defend their regional title. For Ms. Mescall and the other 10 seniors on the squad, it meant a premature end to their high school cheerleading careers.
"I was the overall winner last year," said Ms. Mescall, who placed in the top 20 at the national competition this year in Dallas. "We were all upset about it. We thought we would do well; we were looking forward to it."
"It was a very big upset for our school, for our parents, and for our fans who have been there all year for us," sophomore Katie Willis said.
Although some of the girls wonder if they were denied the trip to set some sort of example, the School Board president says that is not the case.
The district needs to be informed of plans for such a trip at least a week before a board meeting in order for the request to be put on a meeting agenda, Figiel said, and to check on insurance coverage, chaperones and transportation.
"I don't know who's to blame on this thing," Figiel said. "It's unfortunate it happened. The seniors in that group are disappointed about not being able to go their senior year."