RUMFORD — Thirteen hasn’t been a jinx for the Mountain Valley High School cheerleading team.

The Falcons are working with fewer hands on deck than ever, a product of the school essentially shrinking in half from the beginning of its 25-year history to now.

That hasn’t stopped them from soaring to customary heights. Mountain Valley recently regained the MVC championship, winning it for the 12th time in 14 seasons.

And the unforeseen things that could spoil the season for such a close-knit but small squad — knock on the well-worn wood floor underneath the practice mats on the third floor of Greater Rumford Community Center — haven’t been an issue.

“We’ve done a lot better than the past few years, because we didn’t have to redo our routine five times,” senior tri-captain Kelsie Blanchard said. “Everyone comes to practice and keeps their grades up.”

Mountain Valley and its fans will notice another benefit of being smaller when the delegation arrives at Augusta Civic Center on Saturday evening for the regional championship.

The Falcons have dropped from Class B to Class C in the Western Maine field. It means more than Mountain Valley being able to pick on opponents its own size. It’s indicative of having a legitimate chance to win the title, something that wasn’t realistic in recent years.

“We’re actually where we need to be. The last couple years in Class B West, I knew I couldn’t do any better than fourth,” coach Linda Burns said, citing Medomak Valley, Leavitt and Wells as untouchables. “At least here we know we can win, we can get runner-up or we can get third. We know we have a shot. It is so much more fun.”

It has been a fun and somewhat surprising season for the Falcons.

Of the baker’s dozen at Burns’ disposal on the competitive squad — there also are alternates and team members who cheer at basketball games — eight had never cheered competitively at the high school level.

“They’re just athletic. I always say this: You can turn a gymnast into a cheerleader, but it’s really had to turn a cheerleader into a gymnast,” Burns said. “I went after three of them that were tumblers and talked them into coming out for the team, and they love it. But we had to go back to the basics, day one.”

Senior tri-captain Natalie Scott pursued the sport in middle school but switched to basketball the past three winters.

Then Scott, a dancer and gymnast her entire life, did the math.

“I’d rather be on the floor for three minutes than sit on the bench,” Scott said. “In cheering, the girls have a better bond, and we get along a lot more. It’s really important, because if you don’t get along, everything can go wrong. A stunt can go wrong. You can’t be next to that person, so it would have to change the whole routine. But nothing has happened so far.”

The other senior and captain, Sara-mae Parlin, can’t see anything breaking the Falcons’ bond or collective vision.

“We’re definitely a family, 100 percent,” Parlin said. “We’re really close and intertwined with each other’s lives.”

If the team isn’t practicing during the week or competing on a Saturday, you’re likely to find them together by choice.

Team dinners and sleepovers are frequent. The athletes have seen that closeness translate to greater success on the mat.

“This is the second year in a row that I’ve had absolutely no drama,” said Burns, in her 32nd year coaching the sport. “Can you imagine? It is very, very rare.”

“We are like sisters because we spend so much time together,” Blanchard added.

Mountain Valley entered the season eager to prove to itself that the program’s tradition was alive and well.

A year ago, everything that could go wrong, did. The Falcons found out only three hours prior to the 2013 MVC championship that one of its flyers would be unable to compete.

The Falcons did their best to patch up their three-minute routine, but it didn’t go well. Lisbon took home the title.

Reclaiming the top spot with a stellar performance on its home floor Jan. 13 meant more than just reaching the first of their annual goals.

“It was an important win for us,” Burns said. “All they did was talk about it for a year. ‘Oh, it was so embarrassing.’ I said you need to work hard and get that title back, so they did.”

The family theme extends to the coaching staff. Burns’ assistant is her daughter, Kassie Elliott.

“I couldn’t do it without her,” Burns said. “She has an analytical mind, just like her father. We each have our little areas.”

Every championship-worthy cheering routine, packed into three minutes, has a theme that pervades the music, the dance and the attitude. Mountain Valley’s is “paradise.”

They hope for heavenly results upon arriving in Class C, but recent nemesis Lisbon and neighbor Dirigo ensure that the competition will be as tough as ever. The Cougars were second at MVCs.

“We’re excited about it. It’s a little less frightening. It’s still pretty frightening,” Parlin said. “We put a couple more transitions in. We’ve added a toss. It’s just going to be a lot better than it was. I think we’re stronger.”

Keeping everyone healthy, academically sound and socially on the same page has allowed the Falcons only to add to the routine, at a time when they were subtracting or restructuring a year ago.

“It’s not a hard routine, but it’s so clean and so cute and so jam-packed with everything that there’s not a lot of down time,” Burns said. “The stunts aren’t super hard, but they’re very creative.”


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