Lockport woman turns bitter disappointment into universal success
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Whether she’s helping the Louisville Cardinals earn a national cheerleading championship, or her Team USA teammates win a world title, or better yet, lending a helping hand to those less fortunate living in Central America, jumping around comes naturally to Lockport native Maria D’Addeo.
Maria, 20, the daughter of Michael D’Addeo of Lockport and Vanette Bennett of Tennessee, recently returned from a special missionary trip to Belize in Central America where she joined fellow Cardinals students to try and better the lives of those less fortunate.
D’Addeo, a world class student-athlete at Louisville, spent a week in Belize helping to construct a new house for an impoverished family.
“It was a great, unbelievable experience,” said Maria, a 2010 graduate of Lockport High School and a senior marketing and finance major at Louisville.
Maria’s good nature and positive approach towards school, life and a future career in marketing didn’t develop overnight. Bitter disappointment also played a role in the growth and maturity of the comely, driven young lady.
It began as a gymnast in the award-winning Lockport Flips gymnastics program, under the direction of Don and Shirley Beecher.
“A lot of my friends from Flips went on to diving careers. I think if you have a gymnastics background, it’s definitely a lot easier for you to get started in diving and cheerleading because you have a better understanding of the tumbling techniques needed in both. Gymnastics was a good preparation for me,” she said.
Competitive cheerleading soon caught Maria’s eye and in fifth grade, she joined the Outlaws all-star cheerleading squad, based out of Flips. A year later and Maria was looking for a bigger program to compete in and joined the Sub Zero All-Stars out of West Seneca.
“The Outlaws was just one team and Sub Zero had five teams, so it was a much bigger program overall and had won more titles, so I joined them,” Maria said.
In between her time with Sub Zero and college, Maria competed on the Buffalo Envy all-star cheerleading squad, under the direction of siblings Julie and Katie Willis. Their combined cheerleading coaching careers total almost three decades and they are both experienced choreographers, as well as a private instructors in stunting and tumbling.
“Kate and Julie Willis were with me at Sub Zero and I followed them to the Buffalo Envy. They’re one of the biggest reasons for my success in cheerleading today,” Maria said.
Competitive youth cheerleading squads feature about 20 girls performing two-and-a-half minute routines set to music that include stunts, flips, pyramids and other tumbling routines. A 10-panel judge scores each team based on a 10-point system. Some coed youth teams can feature as many as 36 members.
“Maria was an amazing, driven girl. She was always here, always showed up and was willing to work hard to achieve whatever it was she wanted to achieve,” Julie Willis said.
“She started with us when she was about 10 years old. We knew that if she wanted it, she could go places and as she grew, once she got older, we knew that she would get there because of her drive and passion.”
After graduating from LHS, Maria chose Louisville — the number one cheerleading college in the nation with 42 national championships. The Cardinals feature three different cheerleading teams — large coed, small coed and an all-girls team.
“My first year, I didn’t make the team and that was tragic,” Maria said. “I ended up staying down in Louisville and I competed on an all-star team at a nearby gym. I already knew by then that whether I’d make the team or not, I wanted to stay down there because cheering in the south is a lot more of a big deal than it is in the north. Very rarely does a northern school win at nationals.”
Maria’s competitive career blossomed a year later when she made the all-girls Cardinals cheerleading squad and helped her team claim another national championship in Daytona, Fla. That same year, she tried out for the prestigious Team USA Cheerleading squad and was one of only 30 young women nationwide to make the team.
Over the years, she’s appeared with her teammates almost a half dozen times on the national cable sports network, ESPN.
“Right after college nationals in Daytona, we’d go straight to Team USA training for two weeks at the end of April and we’d compete in Orlando against teams from around the world, including Finland, Norway and Mexico.
“It’s an amazing social experience. We’d meet with every team and exchange gifts and talk to them. They really look up to the United States and many of them want to have their picture taken with you and want your autograph,” Maria said. “One of the most popular tradition between teams was we’d trade shirts, like they do in soccer.”
A testament to how far she’s come since her days tumbling in the Lockport Flips gym, last year Maria was named All-American collegiate cheerleader and this past year, her junior year, she was named an All-American stunt athlete. In addition, this past semester at Louisville, Maria posted a 3.8 GPA. Her optimistic future plans after college include graduate school.
“I love competitive cheerleading because it’s a team sport and it’s helped me become a better team player in life,” Maria said. “I found myself at times in the past not wanting to work hard and I know I was at times difficult to work with because I didn’t take criticism very well, but over the years my experience with competitive cheerleading, collegiate cheerleading and Team USA cheerleading has definitely helped me to get jobs and internships.”
Where ever Maria ends up after college, be rest assured that she’ll get there with another giant leap — but this time, a leap steeped in faith and self confidence.
Maria has five older brothers, Michael, Gregory, Bill, Paul and Tony D’Addeo. Maria’s father, Michael, is the owner of The Car Place on West Genesee Street.