It was never Mary Anne Catalano’s plan to be the varsity cheerleading coach at GHS. Like many moms put on the spot for a playdate, Mary Anne, took a short breath the day her daughter volunteered her without asking.
Then she said yes.
What had happened was that 100 girls tried out for the JV and Varsity squads when Mary Anne’s daughter Shannon was a sophomore.
“The Athletic Director felt bad to turn away that many girls. He could only take 40 for JV and Varsity. So the freshmen squad was added,” she said of her first gig as coach. That was back in 2000. “Then, when the JV and Varsity coaches retired, I got bumped up,” she said.
Reflecting on her years as coach, Catalano said the sport has changed tremendously. “Cheerleading has gone in a new direction. It’s gotten much harder,” she said, adding that in addition to the heavy emphasis on gymnastics and tumbling, there is both a cheering season and a season of competitions that starts in January.
“It’s a lot for the girls to juggle with their school work and activities. And it’s hard every year to produce a new team.”
Still, she said, most girls stick with cheerleading for all four years at Greenwich High School.
The day Shannon volunteered her mom to coach the new freshmen team was the start of a 15 year commitment. After Shannon graduated GHS and went on to cheer at UConn, Mary Anne carried on. “I loved it,” she said.
Catalano, who went to St. Roch’s School before it closed, and later, St.Mary’s for high school, was a cheerleader herself. She remembers buying her cheerleading sweater at Ronnie’s on Greenwich Ave.
Her own mother worked three jobs and struggled to make ends meet when she was a teen. “I lived in Armstrong Court from when I was a baby until I got married,” Catalano said. “It was a great childhood.”
Years later, when there were occasionally girls whose family struggled to afford a trip or cheering expense, Catalano found a way to pay for it. “We were a family and no one should be left out,” said Mary Anne who is known among the cheerleaders as “Ma Cat.”
Though most sports have a season, the GHS cheerleaders cheer for basketball and football, in addition to their own competitive season, though they are not technically a varsity sport. “Gus Lindine always treated us as a varsity sport,” Mary Anne said. And summers aren’t necessarily vacation because there is always cheerleading camp.
“What I’d like to see is for them to have their own season,” Mary Anne said. But, she explained, “You aren’t allowed to compete unless you cheer. It’s an FCIAC and state rule.”
Behind Closed Doors in Gym C
“Ma Cat” said that every year the team brings in a choreographer and a stunting coach, and the girls start to learn the routine at the beginning of the school year.
“The girls don’t perform the routine during the basketball season because they need the mats,” Catalano said. “So no one sees our routine unless they come to the competition at the end of January. Then they see the routine behind closed doors in Gym C,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve been a mom to them,” said Catalano, but she was no pushover. “I made sure when they walked in for a game or competition their uniforms were crisp. Their bows were neat. No nail polish allowed,” she said. “Heads always turned. It gave them a great deal of confidence.”
Asked her best memory as a coach, Catalano said that there was a year when Rich Albonizio invited the entire cheerleading squad, coaches and parents to Florida for a big game against Naples High School. “I’ll never forget arriving on the bus and walking into the stadium expecting the away team bleachers to be empty,” she recalled. “But bleachers on both sides were full. I couldn’t believe it. All the snowbirds from Greenwich, they all wore red and white. It was incredible to see all the football family members had traveled from all over Florida to watch the game.”
Asked how she felt about moving on after 15 years of coaching, “Ma cat” said, “I’m sad, but I’m also excited.”
Catalano has five young grandchildren who she is eager to spend time with. She wishes the best to the team and feels confident in the incoming captains: Estella Perrone, Courtney Nastahowski, Victoria Sobeski and Dakota Hirsch.