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Pop Warner cheerleaders coming back to give back

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Rafaella Tringale, Kloey Cardillo, Isabella Mejia team up again to teach the next generation


By Joe McConnell


Rafaella Tringale, Kloey Cardillo and Isabella Mejia grew up in Everett playing the usual youth sports, including cheerleading for the renowned Pop Warner football program, which at that time was divided into two. The programs were named the Huskies and Eagles, and there was plenty of talent to go around to form two competitive organizations of players and cheerleaders that were the envy of the rest of the state.

Cardillo and Mejia signed up for cheerleading in 2005, when they were five. Tringale joined them in 2009. Together, they completed their stint in the league in 2013. But their friendship has remained strong to this day, and now they are back in the league, this time as coaches to pass on their knowledge of the sport to today’s girls.

Cardillo joined the Everett Huskies through the encouragement of her mother, who also cheered in her day, albeit for the Eagles.

Mejia was also a Huskie cheerleader since she was five, even though her mom was an Eagle cheerleading coach at one time. “I have early memories of accompanying my mom and my Auntie Jen to practice,” said Mejia. “The girls used to throw me up in [various] stunts, and I became obsessed with the sport instantly. I knew that I wanted to be a cheerleader just like those girls. My mom was their coach.”

“My older brother Jeff was playing football, and my dad was a coach, and that also definitely had a big influence on my decision to become a cheerleader,” added Mejia. “I wanted to be on the sidelines cheering for my big brother. But ultimately, the reason I stayed with it was due to my amazing teammates and coaches. We had the same coaches all eight years. They eventually became like older sisters to us.”


Tringale returns to Everett to coach what she loves to do

  Tringale started cheerleading in 2009 and stayed with it for the next four years until she started high school. “I wanted to join the cheerleading program, because I was friends with Kloey and a few other girls on the team through school and softball. They encouraged me to become a cheerleader, and I immediately fell in love with the sport, my teammates and especially my coaches,” she said.

When it was time for high school, Tringale moved to Danvers, where she became a Falcon football and basketball varsity cheerleader, before captaining both squads in her senior year. But she played her youth sports in Everett, besides cheerleading in the fall.

“I started playing Everett softball when I was five, and I loved playing it, because I met many new friends,” said Rafaella. “Playing softball inspired me to continue playing sports in high school. Being a part of [Everett youth softball] made me a solid athlete and competitor, which only helped me excel in cheerleading when I started competing in it [in 2009] with no prior experience.”

Rafaella’s cheerleading teams won their share of championships. “We made it to the nationals in 2009, taking home third place. In 2010, we finished fifth, and we ended up fourth in 2011,” she said. “When the Huskies and Eagles merged in 2012, we made it to the nationals again that year, before becoming the first Everett Crimson Tide Pop Warner team to win a national championship. Our final year together in 2013, we finished third.”

It was quite a ride for Tringale and her teammates. They ended up making it to the Pop Warner National Cheer and Dance Championships at Disneyworld’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in all four years. In order to make that annual Florida trip, they had to finish first or second in the regional, state and New England competitions, which in itself is a remarkable achievement.

After graduating from Danvers High School, Tringale attended Syracuse University, where she majored in premed. She also majored in Psychology and Forensic Science. But she had to give up sports in college, because of a prolonged cheerleading injury.


Paying it forward to create more memories

  But that didn’t stop her from staying in the sport. She’s now beginning her coaching career where it all began, despite her full-time job at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in clinical research. She admits juggling her work and coaching responsibilities is challenging. But somehow, she’s making it work, because of how much it means to her. “Just seeing the potential in our cheerleaders each time in practice makes it all worthwhile,” said Tringale.

“What I love about cheerleading is how it brings so many young girls together to become lifelong friends, while growing as individuals and team members in a sport that challenges them,” she added. “Cheering is not easy. It takes a lot of mental, emotional and physical strength to practice multiple times a week, even before cheering at football games on the weekend.

“I always knew I wanted to become a Pop Warner coach, because I saw how dedicated my coaches were, regardless of their busy schedules. They were always there for us, and it was always clear that they had our best interests at heart. They knew how much talent we had, and the success we could have if we worked together as a team. Our national championship team is proof that our coaches knew what they were doing, and all we want now is for our girls to have a similar experience. I will never forget my years in Pop Warner, and the coaches we had still remain in our lives today. We know what it takes to be on a successful cheerleading team, and want nothing more than to pay it forward to give these girls memories to look back on for the rest of their lives.”


Cardillo establishes solid work ethic early on

  Cardillo played almost any type of youth sport that was available to her, but ultimately she favored cheerleading and softball.

“Every single year [since 2005] I competed [as a cheerleader in Pop Warner],” said Cardillo. “Our first competitive year was in 2009, and we came in third in the nation. Every year after that we competed and won titles across the board, and were ranked in the top five nationwide.”

Cardillo made the Everett High School (EHS) varsity competitive cheerleading team as a freshman. In her senior year, she was named team captain, and she helped lead her teammates to small local championships.

After graduating from EHS in 2018, she went on to attend High Point University in North Carolina, majoring in Business Administration with minors in Marketing and Sales.

“I tried out for its cheerleading team, but unfortunately, they had no football team. However, I was still able to continue my love for the sport all four years, and again in my senior year I was named a captain, where we enjoyed a successful season, while I created new dances, cheers and other core routines for them to carry on [for the foreseeable future],” said Cardillo.

Cardillo began playing youth softball in the second grade. She was a catcher growing up, but as a freshman on the JV team she went to centerfield to take advantage of her speed. EHS coach Stacy Schiavo brought her up to practice with that state tournament-bound team, and then she dressed for the games in order to be ready to play in case of injury. She was the regular varsity centerfield from her sophomore year on. She was the lone captain of the team in her senior year and was recognized as the team’s MVP by the E-Club after that season. She continued to play club softball at High Point.


A family tradition to give back

  But it’s cheerleading that remains a passion of hers to this day. “I knew as soon as I went off to college, I wanted to coach a team,” said Cardillo. “My [Pop Warner] coaches Mari Marchant, Dorianne Griffin, Christina Conti and Sonia Faia, and my mom Nicole Dimond gave my teammates and myself a great experience on the youth level, so I wanted an opportunity to make that same impact on athletes today.”

“It’s also easy [to give back], because my father Brian Dimond is still president of the now Everett Crimson Tide Pop Warner League. He was previously an Eagles president, and held that title for over 20-plus years. Prior to that, he also played and coached in the program. The way he has been giving back to kids, and the things he does to make time to run a successful program has definitely rubbed off on me. I always joke around with him that I will be taking his position [as president] in the next few years. I’m just beginning my second year as head cheerleading coach, and this year I’m also running for registrar,” said Cardillo.

“I have the same work ethic as my father, and that’s also why I make the time to help contribute to such a great program. I currently work full-time for Cranney Home Services as a lead install coordinator. On weekends from Friday through Sunday, I’m the bar manager at the Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead. In the spring, I coach the Stars, a minor division team in Everett Girls Softball, and we ended up winning the Inner-City championship this year. I also coach a travel softball team alongside Nicole Buonopane, and our U-18 team ended up winning it all in Atlantic City, N.J. Through it all, I continue to play softball in local competitive leagues, while still making time to live the life of a normal 23-year-old.”


Setting her priorities early on

  Mejia played youth softball and lacrosse, besides cheerleading early on. “The three of us – Rafi, Kloey and I – were all on the same youth softball team for a few years. But I knew I was destined to be a cheerleader, when my favorite part of softball was cheering on my teammates from the dugout,” she said. “Cheerleading and attending tumbling classes were always my priority.”

Mejia graduated from North Reading High School in 2018 and was a varsity cheerleader for eight seasons. She was a team captain for three seasons. “We had a successful run [in North Reading], advancing to the state championship almost every season, while placing third in New England once. We even attended the NCAA National Championships in 2018,” she added.

The Everett native then went on to Clemson University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in the Biological Sciences.


Coaches encourage future coaches

  But cheerleading remains her passion, just like her friends and now fellow coaches Kloey and Rafaella. “Cheerleading taught me to be confident in myself, never give up, always set goals and be a team player,” Isabella said. “I love the feeling of adrenaline you get when performing in front of hundreds of people. One of the happiest moments in my life so far was being crowned a national champion in [2012]. Being a cheerleader has given me a lifetime of memories.”

Isabella works full-time as a talent associate at Talent Retriever in North Andover. But her avocation is still cheerleading. “Although my cheerleading career ended in high school, I knew that my relationship with the sport was just getting started. I have always loved cheerleading, and I now want to give back that love and passion to the next generation [of Everett Pop Warner cheerleaders]. Ever since I was a Crimson Tide cheerleader, I knew I wanted to grow up and be just like my coaches. I’m forever thankful for, and inspired by their dedication,” she said.


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