Cheerleaders have a place to call home

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As North Shore cheerleaders and coaches, along with family and friends, gathered last Friday to celebrate the official opening of their new 5,600-square-foot gym. The head of the longstanding West Island organization called it “a dream come true.” “We have a home, which is very important to us because North Shore is a big family,” said Francine Lewis, president of North Shore Extreme All Star Cheerleading.

After a series of speeches at the new facility – located at 1430 Hymus Blvd. in an industrial area of Dorval – cheerleaders participated in a group ribbon-cutting, which was met with an enthusiastic swell of cheers and applause? Adult guests sipped from small glasses of “bubbly”, as balloons in North Shore colours (black, white, and green) floated down from the ceiling. “It so amazing,” said Kirsten Benneter, a 17-year-old Kirkland resident who has been cheerleading with North Shore for five years. “It’s awesome to be able to say that this is our home.”

North Shore Cheerleading has been around for 39 years, but never before has the non-profit organization had a space to call its own. Instead, volunteers relied on the generosity of cities, such as Pierrefonds and Dollard des Ormeaux, to provide space for cheerleaders to practice. The groups practiced anywhere they could, from park chalets to high school cafeterias. “We didn’t have mats or equipment there, which made it very hard because when a girl falls on a gym floor, it could be very dangerous,” Lewis said.

Benneter agreed the new gym will make practicing safer. As a “mounter” who is propelled into the air by her teammates during complex routines, Benneter appreciates the warehouse’s extra high ceiling and its well protected floor. “The mats are much better quality,” she said.

Since competitive cheerleading was officially recognized as a sport by the Quebec government last year, Lewis said participating in provincial and national competitions has become an even more serious part of North Shore’s annual agenda. “We used to do football games which were a lot of fun, but now we’re at another step,” she said, adding that having their own gym will motivate the competitive teams to train harder.

Lewis said the most challenging aspect of operating the new gym is generating enough funds to keep paying for it. The North Shore organization is planning fundraising activities, and is also counting on the generosity of corporate and individual donors to help cover the cost of renting the refurbished warehouse.

Magda Bishay, whose 9-year-old daughter Samantha has been cheerleading with North Shore for three years, said she’s impressed with how hard all the volunteers have worked to make their dream a reality. “They give so much,” said the Dollard des Ormeaux resident. “It’s unbelievable the amount of time and effort, and how much they give of themselves.”

Organizations: West Island organization, North Shore Extreme All Star Cheerleading, The North Shore organization

Geographic location: North Shore, Kirkland, Pierrefonds Quebec

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