SCARBOROUGH – The old cliché is that cheerleading is more of an activity than a sport. Opinions always seem to change on the subject. After all, there is no clear-cut objective, no goalie to beat, no competitor to outrace, no end zone to celebrate in.
Those are usually the arguments you hear from people who aren’t cheerleaders. Don’t tell that to Lindsay O’Brien.
O’Brien, 26, a native of Scarborough and a member of the Scarborough High School class of 2003, has found her passion in cheerleading. For O’Brien, cheerleading is not just an extracurricular activity. It’s a way of life. After experiencing early setbacks, she returned to Scarborough to help lead the town’s young cheerleaders to victory in a series of competitions through the last five years as coach of the Scarborough Youth Cheerleading Program.
Now, she is reflecting on that time, and all that it has brought her, as she prepares to end her stint as the club’s coach and start another journey. O’Brien is moving to Colorado with her fiancé, Brian, and it is clear that she will be missed.
“She has meant the world to this program, said Doreen Duval-Flaherty, president of the club’s board of directors. “Selfishly, we don’t want her to go.”
“I did see the passion she had for coaching and coaching the girls,” said Rebecca Nappi, one of the program’s co-coordinators, who has had two of her children coached by O’Brien. “I know she’s going to be truly missed by the program, she was a huge part of it. It was her love for being around the girls and watching them become better girls and better cheerleaders.”
Like any competitor, O’Brien has had to experience both the ups and downs of being a part of a team. O’Brien, who played softball and was a cheerleader throughout high school, had one of her passions stripped from her in what was suppose to be her most enjoyable year in Scarborough.
“My senior year, for what is suppose to be the most exciting and most important, was ruined for me before it even started,” said O’Brien. “I was cut from the cheerleading team senior year. It was the worst experience of my life and I will unfortunately never forget it.”
Despite not being on the team her senior year, O’Brien never allowed herself to lose the passion for cheering. O’Brien said she attended every game and competition her senior year to support her former teammates. Even after graduating, the passion never left, as O’Brien made it her mission to remain connected to cheerleading.
“After I graduated, I looked into coaching,” said O’Brien. “I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me. I was hired at Elite All Stars of Maine in Westbrook. I coached there for three years, all age categories, from 4-18.”
In 2005, her first year of coaching a team consisting of 4- through 8-year-olds, she was instantly successful.
“They were the only team in our gym that had made it to the world championships that year which were held in Baltimore, Md. And they won. I didn’t understand how my first year of coaching I had led a team to be world champions,” she said. “Then, I knew that this was something I needed to do for a long time and I knew I could make a lot of girls happy and succeed in something they are just passionate about as I was.”
O’Brien’s success allowed her to once again become apart of the Scarborough cheerleading community in 2007 after being asked to coach by Jane Wiseman, the founder of the Scarborough Youth Cheerleading Program.
“I was so excited,” said O’Brien.
“I started that fall season coaching the fifth- and sixth-graders that year through the competition season,” she said. “The following year I coached the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade in the fall and continued with fifth and sixth for competition. I continued with the fifth- and sixth-grade team until this year, and in the back of my mind I knew I had to share something big with the girls and parents.”
What O’Brien had to share was that she would once again be leaving the Scarborough cheerleading community, this time on her own terms. Amid the harsh reality that she would no longer be a part of the program, O’Brien only got hungrier and more competitive.
“I gave myself a challenge which I knew I could accomplish,” she said. “I asked to take on more than one team. I coached a second- through fourth-grade competition team, as well as a fifth- and sixth-grade team. This year was the best year coaching I have ever had. My second- through fourth-graders won three competitions, and my fifth- and sixth-graders were undefeated.
“My last competition, which was held on March 24, was the biggest one of the year, the fifth- and sixth-graders had never won it before. They had gone all season winning and wanted to win so badly. Their performance was flawless.”
As before, O’Brien’s devotion was paid back to her in full by her cheerleaders.
“They’ve always worshipped her,” said Duval-Flaherty. “They always run and hug her when they see her. When they win they run over and hug her. They cry tears of joy.”
O’Brien, Nappi said, has had a great impact on the girls she has coached.
“I think she has given them the tools to have better self-esteem being in the program. She was very committed to the teams. Therefore the girls always wanted to be there because of her commitment,” Nappi said. “I think she set a a good example for the girls being their coach. She was always positive with them. I think they will always remember her as their favorite coach.”
For O’Brien, who put 110 percent into cheerleading, it wasn’t the success that kept her starving for more. Rather, it was the feeling she got from the girls she coached and their families.
“If you can get off that blue mat after you perform and look at me and tell me that you had so much fun,” O’Brien said as her motto, “then that is first place in itself.”
Lindsay O’Brien, third from left, is leaving after five years of coaching the Scarborough Youth Cheerleading Program. Pictured with O’Brien are, from left, Taylor Martel, Marina Clough, Tiana Brown, Kendra Tonneson and Annee Hale. (Courtesy photo)
Scarborough youth cheerleaders (Courtesy photo)