Cheshire cheerleader Caroline Villecco feels a rush of energy when she gets in front of a crowd. While often having nerves off stage, she brushes them off quickly and focuses on performing alongside her close friends.
“Being at competitions is different than practices,” stated Villecco, a freshman at Cheshire High School. “You get to show what you’ve been working on and use so much adrenaline (that) is on your side.”
While only 15 years old, Villecco is no stranger to the bright lights of cheerleading. In her 11 years competing with Spirit All-Stars and USA Wildcats All-Star Cheer, she has traveled around the eastern seaboard and won several national championships.
“I feel more comfortable performing than cheering at games,” said Villecco, who also represented Cheshire Junior Cheerleading from third through eighth grade and has currently worked as a student coach for the last two years. “When people look into the other side of cheerleading, they see how amazing it is.”
At age 4, Villecco picked up the sport after watching her older sister Steph compete for Spirit All-Stars.
“She is my role model and, after I saw it performed, I fell in love with the sport,” stated Villecco.
While she felt that her inexperience made for a slow start, Villecco saw progress in practice and developed confidence with the help of her teammates and coaches.
“Making friends is very important,” stated Villecco, who stays in contact with her first cheerleading friends. “It is a long season and you meet people from a lot of different towns.”
To start her career, Villecco tried to be a flyer, but then she settled into a base position and used her strength to hold teammates up in the air.
“Being a base, I know what is going on in the stunt,” explained Villecco. “I like being underneath and getting to control as much as I can.”
In her career, Villecco has performed in countless U.S. All Star Federation cheerleading and dance events from December through May. For the last three years, she has qualified for a bid to the in The Summit, a national competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida.
“I’ve been traveling all my life,” reflected Villecco. “A lot of competitions are held in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. For Connecticut, some (competitions) are held in Hartford.”
At a cheerleading event, teams display their skills in a two-and-a-half minute routine of cheer, tumbling, gymnastics, stunting, dance, and motion. At Nationals, squads perform their routine on Saturday and Sunday, but in other events, teams only get one opportunity in front of the judges.
“Teamwork definitely comes into play. Every one has a role,” explained Villecco. “Knowing there are only two minutes and 30 seconds, there are some nerves, but I trust my team.”
Villecco recalls being blown away while attending her first national competition.
“Being so young, it was so nerve-wracking, but I got through it and had so much fun,” recalled Villecco. “That is when I knew that I wanted to continue doing it (performing).”
In her second season at age 7, Villecco contributed to her first national title in the 2012 EPIC-Reach The Beach competition. She represented Spirit All-Stars/Glitter in Mini Level One.
Along with focusing on her routine, Villecco enjoyed watching the other teams from around the country.
“You don’t realize how big cheerleading is,” Villecco said. “At competitions, you get to see what other coaches are doing.”
After three years with Spirit All-Stars, Villecco decided that she wanted to make a change.
“The first gym was a big family, but I wasn’t getting as much work done and didn’t see as much progress in my tumbling,” Villecco reflected.
After searching for a new gym, she found a home with USA Wildcats in Naugatuck.
“As soon as I started, I realized that this was the place for me,” recalled Villecco. “We don’t have captains, but people will typically come to me with questions. I like being there for my teammates.”
“Caroline is a great kid and leader,” stated Wildcats Coach LeeLee Raponey. “We have had a lot of kids who are new to our program and she has helped them with things.”
Last spring with her Senior Level 3 Co-Ed team, Villecco won national crowns in the Varsity-SpiritFest event (Hartford) and the Varsity-Encore competition (Springfield, Massachusetts).
On February 1-2 of this year, her squad won nationally again in the Battle at the Capital event in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been going to this one (competition) for a long time,” reflected Villecco. “We didn’t do well leading into it this year, but stepped up to have a great performance.”
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Wildcats have canceled the rest of their season, but Villecco is appreciative of her coaches for looking out for the teams.
“They push us and act like family,” said Villecco. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
Villecco is also thankful for her family’s encouragement with cheerleading. Along with her parents and her sister Steph, she has two older brothers, Dave and Paul.
“They support me through anything,” reflected Villecco. “I like getting to show them how hard I’ve been working.”