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03/19/2024 11:38 AM

Jones Drew Up Dime of Time in Helping Branford Cheer Grow

Branford senior cheerleader Danielle Jones was instrumental in helping the Hornets rebound as a program post-pandemic en route to the club finishing third at SCCs this winter in the All-Girl Division. Photo courtesy of Danielle Jones

The cheerleading mat was Danielle Jones’ first home base for athletics. And more than a decade later, it has remained her lone nest for sports, but she has gained some encouragement from her teammates along the way to gain courage to try new things and push her teams to new heights.

The Branford High School senior first started with cheerleading in 2nd grade, when her mother asked her what she wanted to do for a fun physical hobby. She never took to nor tried any other events from there. After being part of a squad her freshman year that was very miniscule in number, she has helped the Hornets rebound rapidly post COVID–culminating in the team finishing third in the All-Girl Division at the SCC Championships this past February.

“I just love having the type of teammates you have in cheerleading and having that great bond with them. It is also great to celebrate the big moments with them after a great stunt or whole routine,” says Danielle. “I used to have a mental block when it came to tumbling, but I overcame that fear. It was so big for me to finally do it, and what helped me was my coaches telling me that they would not have me do it if they did not believe I could do it. They really pushed me by believing in me.”

Right from her first competitive conquest as a Hornet, Danielle knew she belonged with Branford. She states an early victory was a seal and stamp of swagger that propelled her the remainder of the way, while adding to her arsenal in the process.

“In my first competition with Branford we got first place, so that was really huge for me and it definitely boosted my confidence,” Danielle says. “My coaches then wanted me to start out harder and try some tumbling. I used that confidence to do that, and it was nice knowing I had that skill down. Outside of competition, it was just always so great being together with my teammates and friends.”

In terms of benchmark moments as a collective group with her Branford club, Danielle recollects the most paramount moment was SCCs this winter. It was the pinnacle of the steady upward trajectory the Hornets had been riding since humble beginnings.

“SCCs this year were so huge in my eyes for us,” says Danielle. “We finally got that second runner-up spot, and it was the first time since I have been here that we placed at SCCs, so it was a big moment for the program.”

As the Hornets amassed a high point total with the judges throughout this competitive campaign in 2023-2024, they harnessed the essence of blocking out any doubts and simply doing it with undying dedication.

“This was probably the best team I have been a part of this year; we scored a lot higher in our competitions than in the past,” says Danielle. “It came down to us knowing we can get the results we want if we just put the work in, and that really helped a lot with our success.”

Danielle also certainly relished in her role as a senior leader for the squad. She explains that as a steward, she is driven and inspired that much more by her younger colleagues looking to emulate her abilities and charisma.

“The underclassmen and the freshmen really look up to me, and I feel I can push myself for them knowing they look at me,” Danielle says. “I have had a lot of fun with them and the whole team. We also had a lot of freshmen bases competing on our team for the first time, which was nice to see.”

The power of positive reinforcement is a massive force when it comes to any interpersonal atmosphere, per Danielle, and her lessons learned. She also explains that one can cultivate great personal growth through fulfilling multiple obligations on a daily basis.

“I have learned that encouragement can work in a great way on a team,” Danielle says. “Responsibilities are also big in life. It can be a lot to balance both school and cheerleading, and you have to put in a lot of time, but it can help a lot.”

Branford Head Coach Rachael Sawicki notes that while Danielle sustained an ankle injury early in the competition campaign, it did not deter her trademark dedication to the team and desire to diversify her skill set.

“She has demonstrated dedication, determination, and resilience throughout her high school career. From her freshman year, navigating the challenges of the COVID year, to her senior year, she remained a dedicated member of the varsity team,” says Sawicki. “She consistently pushed herself both in and outside of practice to gain new skills this year. She never shied away from an opportunity to try something new or work on a new skill. She got her back handspring and round-off back handspring during the game day season. She also kept working hard to get her round-off tuck during the competition season. Despite her injury, Danielle continued to attend practices and competitions to support her team, always with a smile on her face and an unwavering, encouraging spirit. She has a great sense of humor and always knows how to make her teammates and coaches smile.”

As a rookie and freshman, Danielle recalls that she entered into a very small squad in numbers at Branford. But yet now she can truly see rewards reaped by just staying composed, confident, and focused through it all.

“When I started out my freshman season, I was only one of four girls on the team,” Danielle says. “Yet it was great seeing everyone come back to the team after the pandemic. In my junior and senior years, we really came far and pushed ourselves high as a team. We really grew together as a team and got the results we wanted.”