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When Sports Worlds Collide: Football and Cheerleading Linked In A Whole New Way

BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // MAY 1, 2017 //

Traditionally, when we think of football and cheerleading we think of two separate groups; one playing the game and one hyping the players up.

However, football and cheerleading have more similarities than you’d think. Both groups have an element of intense competition going into battle fiercely and confidently; one with eye black dripping intimidatingly down their faces, the other with a smile and spirit fingers. Both must take on the weight of another human body full force. For football it means defense, blocking an attack with your own body weight. For cheer, it means holding the weight of another human and not letting go; or at least if you let go to release a stunt or basket-toss, you must be able to catch them again. Both value good timing, whether it means throwing and catching a ball or throwing and catching a stunt.

But what if the football player and the cheerleader were the same person? Dylan Vieira-Owens is both.

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images credit: Dylan Vieira-Owens

Raised in Everett, MA, Vieira-Owens spent his days in the city parks where he played basketball with other kids in the urban and over-crowded neighborhood, developing a competitive nature from an early age. Those in the area know that Everett is ultra-competitive in sports, and always the team to beat.

“Sports are always competitive and kind of gave me a drive to be the best and a drive to keep competing and reach the level of success because Everett is known for its extreme success in football,” said Vieira-Owens. “I was always pushed to match that.”

Right before his freshman year in high school, Vieira-Owens moved to Stoneham – a city much different than the one he was used to. While he describes Everett as “a lot of people stuck in one place,” he could feel a change of atmosphere in the roomy, comfortable, suburban Stoneham.

“It was definitely a lot more spacious, we actually had a backyard. You could go and play in the street and stuff and you didn’t have to worry about anything.”

One thing that drastically changed for Vieira-Owens was a sense of victory and being a champion; Everett is recognized for its successes in football while Stoneham is recognized for its struggles. In 2010, Vieira-Owens’ freshman year, Everett finished with a 12-0 record and ranked no. 1 overall in Mass. while Stoneham went 0-11, according to CBS Sports MaxPreps.

“I came from Everett and growing up we never lost a regular season game in my life…and then coming to Stoneham who was on a two year losing streak and never winning a game.”

A lacking football record only lit a fire in Vieira-Owens, driving him to be the best in the game. In 2014, his senior year, Vieira-Owens as captain led the Stoneham High School football team to a 5-6 record, improving the team’s turnout by nearly half. And if being the best in football wasn’t enough, he also played baseball, basketball, and ran track. Additionally, he found a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood in sports, focusing more on teamwork rather than strictly winning games.

But Vieira-Owens never expected that he would be taking on another sport – cheerleading.

In his sophomore math class, a classmate who was involved both with Stoneham high cheering and Bravo All-Stars in Wilmington, MA proposed a bet after some teasing and sarcastic views on cheerleading were expressed.

“She challenged us that we wouldn’t be able to learn a backflip so she told us to come to an open gym and ended up learning how to do backflips.”

However, this wasn’t Vieira-Owens’ first encounter with cheer. His mother had coached Somerville youth cheer teams and exposed him to the world of cheerleading at a young age. But his experience following that spontaneous bet is what ultimately led him to a newly discovered passion.

“I kind of fell in love with the whole competition, I wanted to learn like ‘alright I got this new skill, I have this new challenge, I want to keep growing in it and learning about it…and then it kind of just took off from there.”

Soon after he began cheering for Full House All Stars in West Bridgewater, MA as well as Bravo’s senior team, all while still participating in his vast multitude of additional high school sports. Cheer was utilized not only as a recreational activity, but a way to develop skills that would help him in all other sports and get into what he describes as “the best shape of my life.”

Vieira-Owens compares cheerleading to CrossFit, in that it is high-intensity and trains a variety of muscles in a variety of ways. A cheerleader will perform a variation of exercises in one routine, such as lifting someone into a stunt, tossing and catching another person, throwing a tumbling skill, different jumps, all while having a face and attitude that is performance and entertainment ready. It’s a sport that requires practice, precision, and perfection.

“It demands a lot from every part of your body.”

Football on the other hand is all about adapting, as Viera-Owens explains. You train and practice to know your plays and roles on a team, but you can never truly know what to expect from your opponent

Following high school, his Bravo coach, Bryan Ayuk, urged Vieira-Owens to try out for the Celtics Green Team – a performance team put together to hype up the crowd and get the fans excited during home games. Ayuk, a former Green Teamer himself, thought Owens would be a good fit.

“[Ayuk] was the guy who introduced me to cheering and really took me out and kind of mentored me.”

He went to an open tryout for the 2015-16 Green Team and upon arrival discovered the multiple things that were expected for someone to be eligible to make the team.

According to the responsibilities listed on their website, Green Team members over-see and participate in promotions and giveaways during games on behalf of the Celtics franchise, performing routines that include expert tumbling and stunting. The team typically consists of around 18 members, both male and female, who have experience in cheerleading, tricking, and acrobatics.

Additionally, Vieira-Owens was asked to do a multitude of things during his tryout. First, he had to cover up any and all tattoos, which was tough considering he has a sleeve of tattoos on both of his arms. He needed to be clean-cut and have a presentable hairstyle because, “at that level it’s more about the show than the actual skill.”

However, in terms of skill, those trying out had to be able to throw a stunt, throw a tumbling pass, and then practice hyping up the crowd; which in this case was others waiting to tryout themselves.

“As far as the skill level it wasn’t too demanding it was like…stuff that somebody should know and have obtained by that time in their cheerleading career.”

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Vieira-Owens performing with the Celtics Green Team during the 2015-16 season. // image credit: Dylan Vieira-Owens

Following his tryout, Vieira-Owens was given a spot on the team which led to perks such as Celtics gear, headshots and photoshoots posted online, a new and different experience with cheer and gymnastics, and the opportunity to perform for and meet with celebrities and idols.

Some of the notable public figures Vieira-Owens has performed in front of include actor and Boston native Mark Wahlberg, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and a number of other celebrities who add a little more star-power to the glitz and hype of a Celtics Basketball game. He even made an appearance on former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount’s snapchat story and sat next to boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather during a game; getting a glimpse of the infamous duffel bag of money.

Imagine being not only court-side but literally on the court, highlighted with green and Lucky the Leprechaun at center court winking back at you, as if to give you the luck of the Irish before each home game. Over 19,000 seats filled with fans waiting to be wowed. Fans who have stuck with the team through good times and bad. The same team that has been in possession of basketball legends like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce – to name a few. Being the direct source to hype up the crowd and motivate the team to victory; watching the journey up close and personal as the Celtics finished the year at 48–34, which was a vast improvement to previous seasons.

“Growing up being a Celtics fan it was just awesome to me seeing all the legends…and then also being able to watch the Celtics grow because that year was such an exciting year.”

Vieira-Owens was only a member of the Green Team for that one season and is currently taking a break from cheerleading altogether. He is now focusing on his Criminal Justice major, is a Resident Assistant, and is a wide receiver for the Curry College Football team; which he finds similar to the Stoneham High School team – both in weak records but a strong sense of brotherhood.

“We came in as freshman and really wanted to make a difference kind of like what we did here at Curry,” said Vieira-Owens. “Curry wasn’t that bad but still not really that great so it was kind of like a way to push myself to strive to be great.”

When asked what sport he’d choose over any other, Vieira-Owens responded with no hesitation or thought necessary, “Football. Football has always been number one.”

“Everything I do, I do for football. I lift to get better at football. I did track to get faster for football. In a way, I did cheering to kind of make my body better…I heard of professional athletes doing yoga, cheering would be like my yoga, just more advanced and more physical.”

 

Curry College Baseball: Spring Sport Fever

BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // APRIL 17, 2017 //

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The Curry College Baseball team prepares for a mild spring day game against Dean College. // image credit: Christianna Casaletto

 

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Sophomore pitcher, Matt Fogarty (8), and senior catcher, Nick Crivello (30), scope out the competition with Assistant Coach Paul Bortolotti. //image credit: Christianna Casaletto//
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Fogarty (8) and Crivello (30) warm-up before the game. //image credit: Christianna Casaletto//
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The team runs around the outfield catching fly-balls and sun-rays. //image credit: Christianna Casaletto//

Reaching New Heights; Sport Climbing added to 2020 Olympics

BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // APRIL 2 2017 //

Climbers are reaching new heights that lead to a summit all the way in Tokyo.

The International Olympic Committee has approved five new events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: baseball/softball, karate, surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing.

For climbing, the ranking of medal winners will be determined by a combination score of three disciplines: sport climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing as stated by an August 2016 article from Climbing magazine. Both men and women are eligible to compete.

Following the 129th IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro, IOC President Thomas Bach said, “We want to take sport to the youth.” He continued, “With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.”

The popularity of rock climbing — especially in extreme forms — has been increasing over the last few years; also thanks to the ever growing popularity of adrenaline junkie fan favorite activities like parkour and watching/wishing to be a contestant on Ninja Warrior.

“I feel like – especially watching competition climbing – it’s really exciting, it’s super flashy; it’s kind of like ninja warrior,” said Doug Page, of Providence, R.I. “It’s interesting to watch people do some really incredible things with their body.”

Page and other climbers at Rock Spot Climbing gym in Dedham, Mass. spend their Monday afternoons training, climbing, and cheering one another on. Climbing works various muscle groups, strengthening everything from your back, legs, core, shoulders, arms, and even fingers and toes. In addition to physical benefits, many find mental and spiritual benefits to climbing.

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Doug Page, of Providence, R.I., describes rock climbing as a “really interesting way of excercising.” // IMAGE BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO

“It’s really meditative sometimes…you just get on the wall and focus on your breathing and the movement and pretty much nothing else and it’s a cool experience that way,” said Page. “It’s just a really interesting way of exercising.”

And while some climbers, like Page, think the addition of sport climbing to the Olympics is long overdue, others disagree with the rules and boundaries the games will be setting.

Patrick McGuigan, of Marshfield, Mass., pointed out the fact that not all climbers practice or participate in the three disciplines the Olympic Games will be requiring.

“I think it’s a little strange just because the normal competition circuits have never done that before usually it’s kind of up to the climber themselves what division and events they want to compete in,” said McGuigan.

“It’s going to force a lot of really stronger boulders to have to get into a different type of shape than they would usually be in.”

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Patrick McGuigan, of Marshfield, Mass. climbing at Rock Spot Climbing in Dedham, Mass. // IMAGE BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO

Those who participate in bouldering usually make no more than 15 moves per climb but will also be expected to climb 60 foot walls with 30 plus moves for the other climbing disciplines.

One thing all Climbers can agree on is the light that will be shed on a beloved sport that deserves recognition of being more than just a thrill seekers pastime.

“[Climbing] becoming an Olympic sport is going to really put it out there for a lot of people,” said Page. “I know it has been growing in popularity already but something like the Olympics just helps spread it to so many people.”

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Climbers at Rock Spot Climbing gym in Dedham, Mass. post their favorite parts of the sport. // IMAGE BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO

 

International Student Athletes Weigh in on Trump’s Travel Ban

BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // March 24, 2017 //

Although President Donald Trump’s Travel Ban currently targets individuals of seven Muslim–majority countries from entering the United States, there is still an ominous feeling for many; including international student athletes in America.

Tomas Brejcha moved to the U.S. from the Czech Republic to follow his passion for hockey. However, when Brejcha began attending Curry College this fall he found much more than just athletic success.

“Sports help me…easily find friends in different country,” said Brejcha. “I came to the [hockey] team and at the moment I had twenty friends.”

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Tomas Brejcha, an international student athlete at Curry College, found not only success with hockey but a group of friends to support him and help him adjust to life in America. // image credit: Christianna Casaletto //

Similarly, Brejcha’s teammate, Hector Majul, moved to U.S. from Mexico at the age of fourteen pursuing a hockey career. Having spent most of his young adult life in America, Majul never really even considered the potential of a travel ban.

“I really don’t know where would I end [up] if there is a ban since I’m here under a student visa,” said Majul. “If I would’ve known that [about the ban] then, I probably would’ve not even come here at all…because it’s just wasting two years of my life.”

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Hector Majul, an international student athlete at Curry College, had never really considered the possibility of a ban before moving to America pursuing a hockey career. // image credit: Christianna Casaletto //

Trump’s presidency and proposed travel ban has significantly decreased the amount of international students willing to study in America. At Curry College, a number of their diverse study body comes from the variety of international students who enroll.

According to Assistant Director of Admission at Curry College, Shelia Vaughn, in the fall of 2016 there were 250 applicants, 150 accepted and 11 enrolled with 1 exchange student for a total of 12 new international students. In addition, there are 35 returning international students and one student participating in study abroad.

In total Curry College had 23 countries represented in the undergraduate program this academic year with a total of 46 International students, 1 international student studying abroad, and 1 exchange student.

These countries include: Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

“Each and every one of these students makes a difference in the classroom, residence halls, in clubs and organizations, and on the field or ice,” says Vaughn. “I have been working with international students for 17 years and I can say without a doubt that it is the most rewarding part of my job.”

Ken Carberry, co-founder of Chart Productions, a broadcaster and part-time legal practitioner, thinks the latest version of the travel ban has a better chance at the Supreme Court level than the first iteration; although he still believes there’s a huge risk that could affect a variety of people – including athletes.

“The major sports in the U.S. do not draw a lot from the selected countries,” says Carberry. “However collegiate sports, Olympic sports and trials, and international soccer could certainly be affected if their athletes live in the selected countries.”

So other than waiting in fear, what can our athletes do? Carberry makes a simple suggestion.

“The players have a responsibility to speak only through their actions; to show acceptance and friendship with their teammates, regardless of their background.”

Curry College Men’s Basketball Lacking Morale and Fan Support

BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // Feb. 27, 2017 //

The Curry College Men’s Basketball Team has spent the past two seasons struggling with both a lack of wins and a lack of fan support. Last season was Coach Matt LeVangie’s first at Curry and the team went 0-25. This season, the team improved their record, 1-24.

But does this really have to do with the coaching? The skill of the team? Or maybe a significant lack of fan support and school spirit have the Colonels feeling frustrated and unmotivated. It isn’t uncommon that Curry’s cheerleaders can be found sitting on the sidelines phones in hands with glossy eyes; or the visiting team has a bigger, louder, and more spirited fan section.Why would the Colonels bother to put on a show if there’s no one to put a show on for?

Can the Colonels make a comeback and revamp both their skills and spirits before next season? The team has the entire off-season to work hard and make things right in order to avoid another victory dry spell.

Women Of New England

CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // FEB. 5, 2017 //

Patriot Nation isn’t just a fan base, it’s a lifestyle. Faithful to their fearless leader Tom and the rest of the Brady Bunch in good times and in bad, the Patriots arguably have the most dedicated group of fans in the NFL.

But what about the women of New England? The gender-specific term “Pink hat” was created by Boston sports fans to label “a clueless, ignorant female who goes to sporting events and doesn’t know the most basic facts about the team that they supposedly support,” according to Urban Dictionary; give or take a few expletives.

I talked to some female fans, specifically at Curry College, and asked them about Pats Nation and the stereotype that women can’t be as die-hard of fans as men.

fullsizerender-1Michaela Timmons of Weymouth, Mass., can’t get enough of the Patriots’ success. “I like the Pats because I don’t like to lose,” said Timmons. “I live my life as a winner.”

fullsizerender-2“I would have been shunned by my family a long time ago if I didn’t root for the Pats,” said Valerie Guarino of Mansfield, Mass. “They pay my bills so I need to make them happy.”

fullsizerender“We’re better friends than Jimmy G and Brady,” said Timmons. “And cuter if you ask our moms,” added Guarino.

fullsizerender-6“Every Sunday I would watch the [football] game with my dad and my brother,” said Victoria Parks of Cumberland, R.I. “We went to a game once and it was so fun, I love the atmosphere of a Pats game and being a Pats fan is unlike anything else.”

fullsizerender-3Virgina Fabiani of Watertown, Conn., said she was shocked by how strong Pats Nation is in Massachusetts. “I was totally under the impression everyone was rooting for their own teams.” She continued, “I’ve never been in a state where they’ve been super for one team– like you don’t not root for the Patriots when you’re in Massachusetts.”

sinead-sports“My parents are both from Ireland so the only American sport I really grew up watching was football,” said Sinead McGrath of Quincy, Mass. 

fullsizerender-5“I grew up in a house where we always gathered on Sundays to watch games,” said Kayla DiBiase of Arlington, Mass. “I live with all boys pretty much and we’re more of a hockey family, but sports have always been super important.”

fullsizerender-4Connecticut native Briana Dawkins said, “I’m a girl who grew up with all brothers, my mom was a tom boy so sports – specifically football- have always been a part of my life.” She continued, “My dad is a Pats fan, my mom is a die-hard Giants fan; everyone in Connecticut likes different teams.” 

nicole-sportsNicole Harkins of East Bridgewater, Mass., was born and raised a Patriots fan. “Before the [Super Bowl] game my dad texted me, ‘I believe in “Patriots” win, lose, or draw. “We” meaning “us” move forward and we always keep an open mind, challenge ourselves to be better, then mix in a whole lotta love and acceptance and then we will continue to win.'” She continued, “My dad owns the life-size Patriots helmet replica from the NFL shop, so if that doesn’t tell you why I’m a Patriots fan, what will?”

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