“It was like driving down the road, going 100 miles an hour, to a screeching halt, and then nothing.”

That’s how Element All Stars cheerleading owner Andrea Keneborus felt when the all-star season, like everything else in the country, was forced to pause.

Element teams had just come off performing at a competition in Washington, D.C. in early March, and were gearing up for another one in Providence. That was canceled, “and then it was like a rippled effect,” Keneborus said.

“Our big end of the season (competition), The Summit, which happens at ESPN (Wide World of Sports) in Orlando, Florida, that was canceled,” she added. “And they didn’t even actually cancel that, I believe it was late June, but we had made a decision as a gym in April to say, you know what, I can’t string these families along, they need to be able to plan one way or another, we’re just not going to go. So we didn’t end up going, and they didn’t end up having the event, so it was a good decision.”

Element teams haven’t performed since the first week of March, but they hope that will change next month. But it won’t be in D.C. or Providence, but at the Element gym in Lewiston.

“We just made the decision, because travel is a big deal and it’s a big part of what we do, we were supposed to be going to Atlantic City the second week in January and we made a decision not to go,” Keneborus said. “So what we have decided as a gym, we signed up to do five winter series virtual competitions, and we’re just kind of trying to ride the wave out and see where that falls. But at least we will have some sort of season for these kids, even if it’s virtually.”


It’s been a long wait for Element teams, but the first virtual competition on January 30 is approaching fast, and practicing for a competition has proven difficult this fall.

“Currently because of the mandate about community sports, we’re supposed to cease everything until the 14th,” Keneborus said. “Well, actually the 7th we could resume, but it was basically not working on stunting, or doing socially-distanced practices, if you will. Individual tumbling skills basically is what we’ve basically been working on for the last month-and-a-half, when we’ve been allowed to proceed forward.”

Keneborus said the gym has had to deal with a case of COVID, which forced an entire team to quarantine until this weekend. And that happened despite stringent protocols to protect against the virus.

Keneborus is hoping to have all that behind her program starting Monday, so the athletes can get back to what they started on when practices opened back up this past May.

That was around the same time that Tracy Daigle opened up PRO Cheer, also in Lewiston, which was rebranded from Diamond Athletics. Daigle was a coach and office manager for Diamond, which took over space at Andy Valley Gymnastics that became available when Element moved into its own space on Main Street.

“Why I thought starting a business in a global pandemic was a good idea, I don’t know,” Daigle said. “We will survive it because I’m just not going to accept failure, and we will push through. And although this will be a different season, there will be a season, there will be competitions, even if the majority of them end up being virtual, we will still be competing.”


PRO Cheer has been dealing with its own COVID-related roster crunches.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with attendance, obviously, because everyone’s, especially now, a close contact and half the gym is in quarantine. We closed for a couple weeks over Thanksgiving in the hopes that maybe the excitement for cheer would come back,” Daigle said.

“After our tryouts in July, we had about 60 athletes, and now we have about 30,” she added. “I started with about 20 senior-age athletes, meaning kids over 15. I think I have about three left. Teenagers are struggling. They are depressed. They are not enjoying the activities they always did, and it’s taking a toll on not just my business, but just that high-school age kiddos. They’re struggling, and I don’t really know what to do with that.”

Daigle said her program has incorporated themed practices on Sundays to try and re-create some of that excitement. She’s hoping the promise of the virtual competitions, which for PRO Cheer will also start in January, will help the program.

“We were supposed to compete this past weekend, but with so many kids being out, or quarantining, or sick, we lost a lot of our practice time and getting through. Cheerleading, unlike other sports, you don’t have a second string that you can pull from to put kids in. If one person is out, you can’t practice your full routine. So attendance is a big issue,” she said. “And in the past, all-star cheerleading has always been a big commitment, and in the past we didn’t allow absences, and we can’t do that now. We obviously don’t want anyone who’s been exposed to COVID, we don’t want anyone with COVID symptoms at practice. It makes it really tough to get through a practice. Our senior team (Wednesday) night had two athletes at (practice). It’s tough.”

Virtual competitions won’t include the normal travel or mingling with other athletes, but it still means working toward mastering a two-and-a-half minute routine. Keneborus said the timeline of the virtual competitions is similar to travel competitions in that it spans an entire weekend.


“(The performance video) has to be submitted on a Thursday night by 11:59, and then they judge it on Saturday,” she said, “and then they give us the results, like our score sheet, and then if there’s something that we have a discrepancy with the score sheet we have a day to bring it to the judges’ attention, they may or may not change it, and then the awards will be on Monday.”

Daigle is trying to get her teams to that point, in hopes of a brighter days ahead.

“If we can at least start with some virtual competitions, and get the excitement moving forward, ‘OK, we’ve done one virtual competition, and we still get a score sheet, we can still get bids — we’re always trying to get bids to end-of-season events, to the D2 Summit in Disney,” Daigle said. “As of now, the D2 Summit is still happening. Last season, our bids to D2 Summit, we were really excited because we were taking three teams, and then COVID hit. So the hopes are always to try and have them work for something that’s going to happen at the end.”

The end-goal has been a moving target since last March. And trying to keep focus narrowed while the pandemic has infiltrated any sense of normalcy has been difficult.

“Some of these kids have been in the gym since July and working their butts off for, not just the excitement to say you got the bid, or to win, it’s really so much more about these friendships and second families that a lot of these kids have,” Daigle said. “We do have several kids that really, for lack of better words, need the gym, they need those friendships, they need that activity, they need something to look forward to. Even if it’s just a virtual comp, it’s still a competition and they’re still going to be able to show what they’ve been working so hard for.”

It hasn’t been easy for Element’s athletes either, Keneborus said.

“I will say, they’ve been resilient. That’s the best word I can describe them; resilient, grateful that we’re doing something, optimistic,” she said. “For many of these kids, they’ve been in the gym for years and years, so for everything that they’ve known with this sport, and what comes along with it, came to a screeching halt. It was devastating for some. So just to get back and get these kids moving again I believe is really important, and they are optimistic.”

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