They stand along the sidelines and bring positivity, energy and support for their school on Fridays in the fall but cheerleading is much more than helping celebrate a touchdown. And it’s that other part of cheerleading that screamed out to a young girl in Livonia.
“I started cheering when I was about 7 at my elementary/ middle school, St. Edith in Livonia,” says Gabriela Garbey. “What really drew me to the sport was its competitive nature. When you think cheer you usually think about girls on the sideline cheering on the football team, and while that is a part of it, there is a whole other side of it. That part of it is pure competition and working together as a team to create routines that will wow the crowd and impress the judges at competitions.”
Garbey is now a senior at Father Gabriel Richard HS and has been cheering for over a decade – and loving every aspect and every second of it.
Competitive cheer is, well, very competitive. It’s right there in the title for a reason. Teams from all over the state spend countless hours working on routines and tournaments and competitions can be quite emotional, challenging and intense.
“Competitive cheerleading is one of the hardest sports out there,” says Garbey, who also plays lacrosse for the Irish. “You don’t only need physical strength, but mental strength as well. Competitive cheerleading is also extremely team oriented. The saying, ‘you’re only as strong as your weakest link,’ truly applies when it comes to creating routines and stunts that will accurately depict you as a team.”
Garbey says competitive cheer also is about trust.
“You have to not only trust yourself but your teammates,” she says. “If you can’t trust your flyer or if your flyer doesn’t trust her bases, then you will never be able to be confident about what you are about to do. You have to be virtually fearless because injury is very prevalent in the sport and most injuries occur when you hesitate in a skill due to lack of confidence in yourself and the people around you.”
Garbey was just a freshman when FGR started a competitive cheer team and she was “honored” to make that inaugural team as a ninth-grader.
“It was nerve racking, but it was also a very exciting feeling knowing that as a team we would be making school history,” she says. “That being our first competition, we did not place well, but it set the foundation for us as a team to grow.”
Just three years later, the Irish ended up taking second in their division at the Catholic league championship. “We intend to keep improving and leading the legacy for future Father Gabriel Richard competitive cheer teams,” she says.
Speaking of leading, Garbey is doing exactly that for the Irish.
“She has been cheering for 10 years and she is a great team player and leader, as well as a talented cheerleader,” says FGR Coach Lily Foley.
Garbey is a team captain this season, a role she takes with pride, responsibility and seriousness.
“Being a captain is a huge honor considering how long I have been participating in the sport,” she says. “Out of all the years to be captain, I feel that this year is one of the most impactful for the team. Usually the captains make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do and practicing their routine, but this year it was so much more than that.”
Part of Garbey’s added duties was making sure her teammates were being safe on and off the field. And she wanted to be there for them even when she wasn’t (physically) there for them.
“This year was an important year for captains, because my co-captain and I had to make sure that everyone was being safe and come up with creative ways to make sure that all of our talents are being showcased,” she said. “A saying that we use as a team is ‘lead the legacy,’ and I am really taking that to heart as a captain this year.”
Garbey’s interest in cheer has jumped way beyond impressing judges and creating perfect routines. It’s about building life-long friendships and unbreakable bonds.
“The team at Father Gabriel Richard is less of a team and more like a family,” Garbey says. “I have been cheering with most of the girls since I was a freshman and the bond that we all have is unbeatable. This team has consistently stayed close, as new people come and go, we always keep in touch. We all know how to have fun and have tons of laughs but when it comes time to work, we can always get it together just long enough to work hard on our routine before we begin our laughter again.”
Gabriela, the daughter of Kimberly and Barbaro Garbey, also is the co-editor of her school’s yearbook. After she graduates from FGR she hopes to go to college and study multi-media journalism.
As for cheering?
“I would love to cheer in college, but I think I will have to focus on my schooling for a while before I decide if I want to continue,” she says. “I love cheerleading and giving it up for good doesn’t sound like something I will be doing anytime soon.
“Coming from a small school myself, doing cheer was one of the best decisions I have made in my four years at FGR.”