As shown by the recent clinic hosted by the Wilton High School cheer team, which drew 120 girls, the popularity of cheerleading has never been greater in Wilton.

Which makes it such a great opportunity for Ashley Bonora, the new head coach of the WHS squad.

“I am ecstatic to be part of the Wilton cheer community. They have welcomed me with open arms and it has solidified my decision to be here,” said Bonora, who joins the Warriors along with new assistant coach Kelcie Wehmoff.

The sport has grown tremendously in the last ten years, evolving from its traditional supporting role to include more competitive activity, combining elements of cheer, dance, tumbling, jumps and stunting.

Wilton’s cheer squad only made its debut at the FCIAC championships in 2004, and since then has seen many milestones as gymnasts have earned All-FCIAC and all-state honors.

Bonora, a 2003 New Canaan High graduate, was a team captain both her junior and senior years on the team, which made it to regionals in 2002. She went on to Sacred Heart University, where she danced as part of SHU Dance Team and served on its executive board.

The opening at Wilton gave her a chance to get back into cheer and dance.

“After four years away from both, I realized that I needed to get back into it. I miss cheer,” she said. “I love all aspects of this sport. From dancing to stunting to the tumbling. However, the job of a cheerleader is to be the spirit and the pride of our school and community and I think that is by far my favorite part of cheerleading. The fans look to us as symbols of school spirit and we need to deliver. I love being on the field with the football players or on the court with the basketball players cheering them on and encouraging the fans. The music, the lights, the roars — it’s all so exciting.”

Bonora has been happy with how the sport of cheer has gained respect, and popularity, year by year.

“I have seen how popular cheer has become. There is more coverage on TV and more competitions provided. There are also documentaries and reality shows about the life of a cheerleader, which shows the truth about how competitive and athletic cheerleading is. Look at the youth clinic in Wilton alone. Every year the numbers increase, proving how popular cheer is,” she commented.

“I can honesty say I am so proud to know that cheerleading is growing into what it is. Society is taking it more seriously and I’m happy about that. I worked so hard to be part of that change while in high school and now that has paid off. I will continue to do that as a coach.”

Bonora is an eighth grade language art teacher in the Norwalk Public Schools.

On the WHS cheer team, she will be assisted by Wehmoff, who grew up in Norwalk, where she cheered in youth, high school and all-star cheer programs. She has coached for the last eight years and since 2010 has been a national certified cheerleading judge.

“She is an amazing assistant coach. I am so lucky to have her by my side,” Bonora said. “She is knowledgeable and talented and between the two of us, we hope for great things.”

As for team goals, Bonora said she is following the lead of the girls and listening to what their goals are.

“I want to lead them to their goals. I also want to prove that cheerleading is a serious sport and takes as much athleticism as other varsity sports,” she said. “Lastly, I want to make this year fun and enjoyable for both the girls and the Wilton community. Through all this, we will ultimately build the reputation of our squad.”