Favorite athlete: Gabi Butler
Favorite team: Kutztown University cheer team
Favorite memory competing in sports: Making history my freshman year by being the first to make it to nationals
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I was stunting at a basketball game and fell. I ended up with a black eye and it gave my team and I a good laugh
Music on playlist: Lots of Ariana Grande and Lennon Stella
Future plans: I plan to go to Kutztown University and try out for their cheer team! I would also like to become a physical therapist.
Words to live by: “Always give 110 percent.”
One goal before turning 30: To graduate and have a successful job as a physical therapist.
One thing people don’t know about me: I like to draw and paint in my free time
By Ed Morrone
A likely misconception about cheerleaders is that they only exist in the high school realm to pump up the crowd at football and basketball games.
While this is certainly part of the job, Samantha Castorina is walking proof that cheerleaders do a lot more than you probably think they do. They have the ability to make a tremendous impact within their communities, and sometimes even make a little history in the process
Castorina is a senior cheerleader at Abington, an activity she estimates she’s been participating in since kindergarten with the help of her mom who coached Castorina through her elementary school years and inspired her to keep going once she got to high school. Castorina did play softball before she got to Abington, even winning a couple of championships, but she ultimately found out that cheer was the only activity she got genuinely excited about every day.
Plus, who has time for softball when cheerleading is a year-round endeavor that does not include much of a pause button? Not Castorina, and her commitment has paid huge dividends for both herself and the Abington community at large.
“I played softball from third to sixth grade, but it wasn’t really my thing,” she said. “I wasn’t the best at it, and I never felt comfortable in that element. Cheer was always my number one. Being a cheerleader, you have to be committed and willing to put your all into it. It’s about being a good leader, bringing a positive mindset and being there for everybody. I’ve always been a very optimistic person, and school spirit is a fun thing for everyone.
“I especially love cheer because of how much people underestimate it. When I get to show them all that goes into it — the skills and all the work I put into in it for so long — it feels rewarding. Cheer is just something where I always felt like I could be myself while having fun with my friends.”
The cheer schedule is so packed throughout the calendar year that Castorina was still in eighth grade when she initially tried out for the Abington varsity squad. Because football games occur in the fall and the cheerleaders need to be ready for those, tryouts occur each year the preceding April. Castorina made the team on her first attempt, and while she was more quiet and reserved as a freshman, she was also a huge component of the first-ever Abington cheer team to qualify for nationals in Orlando.
Cheerleading requires intense strength, conditioning, coordination, and the acrobatic tumbling and tossing into the air spectators see at games takes countless hours of practice to perfect. This mostly occurs following tryouts during the “quiet” part of the cheer schedule in the summer, when Castorina and company are only meeting two days a week as a team as opposed to the five to seven once school is in session. The team is simultaneously working on its two-and-a-half minute routine that it will unveil at competitions that begin around November and stretch into the spring, as well as the tumbles, stunts and cheers that are seen at football and basketball games.
Perhaps even more important than being strong and in good physical condition is the constant positive attitude that cheerleading necessitates. Castorina was asked how she could pretend to be happy for her team and a crowded audience, even when she’s having a bad day and going through it.
“We always say fake it until you make it,” she said. “But for me, cheer has brought me such great friendships that when I’m having a bad day, the practices, games and competition are when I have the most fun. I can forget everything bothering me and just focus on cheer. When I do have a bad day, my friends and cheer always make me feel better.”
Castorina’s first year at Abington coincided with that of Krystin Baron, who was brought in as an assistant cheer coach and has since been elevated to the program’s head coach. Baron said that in a sense, the two were freshmen together, and they leaned on each other as they figured out their new surroundings.
Baron recognized the potential in Castorina right away, from her skill set to the constant positive mindset that the sport requires.
“I could definitely see that she had some skill assets,” Baron recalled. “But she was also incredibly driven and soaked up feedback like a sponge. Samantha is the definition of genuine excitement. Even when she’s having a bad day, she always pushes others to have a good day. She is always positive, and that’s what makes her special. You never see or hear it in her demeanor if she is having a bad day. She puts it all aside to be there to be the best for the team to be its best. That’s why I love her so much — she’s such a huge asset.”
Abington had competed in local competitions before, but the arrival of Castorina and Baron saw the program branch out more. That year, in addition to the local competitions and the sideline and on-field/court work required for football and basketball games, Abington attended regionals for the first time and earned its first of three national bids to Orlando (the Ghosts participated in the preliminary round in Castorina’s freshman and sophomore campaigns, and advanced to the semifinals as a senior, placing in the top-30 nationally as a team).
According to Baron, Castorina is a perfectionist, and the attention to detail is a big reason why Abington has had so much success as a cheer program. Quiet as a freshman, Castorina took on a bigger leadership role as a sophomore and has been someone that Baron has deeply leaned on ever since.
“On a team full of cheerleaders, we call her everybody’s biggest cheerleader,” Baron said. “I never hear her say how great of a job she’s done; instead, she pats others on the back and gives them feedback. By her sophomore year, she was a completely different person who had found her place on the team. She’s driven and wants to do her best. If one of her stunts fails, she would drop to the ground on her own to do push-ups. She’s determined to do better for herself and her teammates.”
Castorina said she does a little bit of everything when performing, but stunting is her biggest strength; that is, she’s a “flyer girl,” one of the girls you’d see getting tossed around into the air every which way. She’s also tried to become more of a role model. As a current captain, she said she learned how to lead by watching those that came before her.
“Even in my freshman year getting to nationals, I felt like I was helping a lot,” Castorina said. “They had never made it there before that, and it made me feel like if this is where I was starting, then maybe we could get even further in the next couple of years, which is exactly what we did.”
According to Baron, cheerleading is such a hyper-individualized sport, that if one girl fails to do her job properly, the entire operation fails. Because of this, the cheerleaders often have to spend additional hours practicing at home or on their own time away from organized team activities. Whether it’s doing more strength and stamina work, or practicing/filming motion movements to study all intricacies and nuances, Castorina has always been willing to do more so that her team ultimately looks better.
“She’s able to talk to the team, figure things out and work out the kinks,” Baron said. “She’s knowledgeable and has learned so much about the sport that she naturally takes on that leadership role and helps the team with it. You have to have that teammate mentality, because if we can’t function as a whole, then it’s not going to work. That’s why we call her everybody’s biggest cheerleader, because she is the definition of a good teammate.”
Castorina has been at the forefront of ushering in a new era of Abington cheer, and with that new era comes increased expectations. When Castorina graduates in a couple of months, excellence and an annual trip to nationals will be expected because of the culture she helped create.
She’s not done, either. Castorina plans to attend Kutztown University in the fall to study physical therapy; not only that, but she plans to try out for the school’s cheer squad, because why mess up what has become such a good thing in her life?
“I’ve had a couple of competitions at Kutztown in their gym, and I absolutely love the campus,” she said. “It’s so beautiful, lots of trees and green, and I got to see the classrooms and learn about the physical therapy program. To top it off, the cheer team was amazing; unfortunately, they don’t give out cheer scholarships, so I’ll have to try out. If I go and do my best, I think I could have a good chance to make it.”
The interest in physical therapy as a career, like most young athletes her age, stemmed from an ankle injury sophomore year that required Castorina to visit her own physical therapist. She wasn’t used to sitting out while her team performed without her, and Castorina said that an urge existed to push herself too hard so that she could, in her mind, get back to competition faster. Her physical therapist taught her restraint and how to heal the right way. More time equaled less risk of long-term damage to the ankle’s ligament, and by the time junior year began, Castorina was ready to roll, this time with a new perspective on life.
Despite the fact that cheer takes up so much of her time, Castorina has many other interests that fill her time. She lives in Roslyn, and she recalled while she was growing up how involved her grandfather was in the community, staging events like car shows and fall festivals. After he passed away, Castorina and her family took it upon themselves to keep her grandfather’s philanthropic legacy alive, and she remains involved in community events.
Baron said that Castorina is involved with Athletes Helping Athletes and is also part of a committee at Abington where all the captains of the school’s athletic teams meet periodically to discuss pertinent issues. When she’s not wearing many different hats within the Abington school community, as well as the community at large, Castorina likes to unwind by painting and drawing. She doesn’t pretend to be the second coming of Van Gogh, and sometimes she’ll share her creations with family members, but being artistic is a way for Castorina to get away from all the noise, a necessary peaceful activity that sits adjacent to a chaotic and busy lifestyle.
In the end, Castorina is the total package, according to her head coach.
“I had never coached before, and she helped me see confidence in myself,” Baron said. “She isn’t one to brag or be outspoken about what she can do, because it’s already inside of her and she lets those qualities show in other ways. I absorbed that from her, the ‘I can do this’ mentality. We came in together, so it’s hard for me to picture what it will be like without her leadership, smile and positivity. It will be hard to lose her because she is such a great person.”
The feeling is very mutual.
“It’s been really nice to watch each other grow from where we both started,” Castorina said. “She always helps me with optimism and keeps my head up. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to cheer, so when I get upset about something, she reassures me and makes sure I’m alright. Cheer is a sport where there is a lot of criticism, and she’s been really good with helping us being able to take that on. She and the coaches were so helpful — the main aspect that made me the better cheerleader that I am today.”