Ann Grasso-Little has been the South Colonie varsity cheerleading coach for 10 years and has been involved in the Capital District cheerleading scene for three decades. She and South Colonie hold one of the largest cheerleading events in the area, the Raider Rumble, with teams from all over Section II competing. This year, after a hiatus thanks to COVID, it is scheduled for Feb. 12. She is also the Eastern NY Sales Representative for Varsity Spirit Fashions and a mom to three boys.
Q: Cheerleading is about more than pompoms. It involves a unique mix of gymnastics, stunting, crowd work and athleticism. What is the most important quality a cheerleader brings to the table.
A: The most important quality is to be coachable. Creating a routine in competitive cheer is much like putting together a puzzle. Everyone on the floor is an important piece to make the puzzle complete. Sometimes that means athletes who have been in one position for years suddenly needing to learn something brand new. It’s important for me as a coach to see the whole picture and place my athletes where it will be best for the overall performance and effect. The best athletes are the ones who adapt quickly and put the team first.
Q: Cheerleading is a recognized sport, and as such there are standards that apply to each performance during competitions. How do you prepare the girls for competition — how do you balance the desire to push the athletes to their potential and the risk of injury as they flip through the air 12 feet off the ground.
A: We start skill building in the fall and off season. Most of our competitive athletes cheer on our fall Game Day Team. We work basic stunt and tumbling techniques during that time so that once we start working the more advanced skills, our foundation is strong. As a coach, it is vital to make sure your athletes are ready both physically and mentally before performing certain skills. It’s an old coaching expression but it always holds true…”perfection before progression.”
Q: How has the sport evolved since you first got involved?
My coaching career starting in 1994, back then the skills allowed in routines were very different than they are now. Coaches at that time were not required to have certifications and the safety measures in place were minimal. Since becoming a New York State Public High School Athletic Association sport, coaches are required to update safety certification every two years to ensure proper progressions and safety measures for the athletes. The notoriety of our sport has greatly increased with televised national competitions and of course the Netflix series, CHEER.
Q: Colonie has a strong youth cheerleading program. How important is it to get them involved at a young age?
A: Our community is very lucky to have two strong youth programs. Several of our varsity athletes work directly with both groups as junior coaches. Having that foundation when they get to the high school level has been paramount to our programs’ success.
Q: What kinds of things do you try to teach the students outside of the competition routines?
A: My father (Joe Grasso of Bishop Maginn) was a well-respected, successful coach. I have always done my best to emulate his approach. I’m a tough coach, no one would say different. I am trying to teach them respect for others, compassion and the skills needed to succeed in life. Sports teaches all these things. Whether going to college or directly into a career, I hope all my athletes learn that they can achieve anything by hard work and respecting others.
If you would like to see someone featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or francoj@spotlightnews.