SULLIVAN — As she left her house Saturday morning, Monica Pettegrow asked for a message from beyond.
On the day of the Class C North championship meet, the biggest of Sumner’s 2020 season to date, Pettegrow, who co-coaches the Tigers along with Jessica Snowdeal, was looking for a good omen with the Tigers set to compete for a regional title. To do so, she asked Whitney Doughty, a former Tiger and an old student of hers, to make her presence known.
“I said, ‘Whitney, give me a sign,’” Pettegrow recalled. “I went out and looked, and I saw a cardinal right there in my birdfeeder.”
That auspice, which preceded Sumner’s first regional title win in 10 years, has been one of many along the way throughout a season dedicated to a beloved alum and community member. Competing in honor of Doughty, who passed away in an ATV accident last spring, the Tigers have swept all three championship meets in what has been their best season since Doughty herself wore a Sumner uniform.
With every flip performed, every stunt hit, every step taken this season, Sumner has had Whitney Doughty in mind. The Tigers break every team huddle with a “1-2-3, Whitney!” chant and have written her name everywhere from road posts near the high school to their bus windows.
Sumner’s decision to dedicate 2020 to Doughty came in the weeks leading up to the winter sports season. The prospect of the first year without Doughty, one of the most passionate backers of the Sumner and Hancock County cheer communities, around to support had the Tigers feeling a bit down at first, but the team chose to channel its energy and emotions in a way that would have made her proud.
“We were really upset when we heard about Whitney’s passing, and this was the first season since it happened, so it made sense to make this her season,” senior Devin Moshier said. “There’s a lot of girls that weren’t planning on cheering, but when they heard about her passing, they changed their minds.”
Although Doughty graduated in 2011, nine years before even the oldest members of this Sumner team will, she still had a profound effect on this year’s squad. A former assistant coach at Sumner, Doughty coached six of the current team members in the Schoodic Tigers youth program. She also competed under Pettegrow on Sumner’s 2010 team, which brought home the only state championship in program history.
“We all knew her,” senior Autumn Mowery said. “She was like family to a lot of us. My mom was best friends with her, and I knew her ever since I was really young. … She was there for all of us.”
After opening the season with an exhibition meet, the Jan. 4 Maine Cheer Coaches Association Showcase at Ellsworth High School, Sumner began its competitive slate with the Jan. 11 Downeast Athletic Conference championships at Woodland High School. The Tigers beat Calais, Machias and Woodland to win the title, their first of the year.
Sumner’s DAC title win came a day after the school originally deemed the conditions farther Downeast too icy for the team to be traveling all the way to Baileyville. Yet that decision was reversed early Saturday morning as the hazardous conditions forecast failed to materialize.
“The weather was supposed to be horrible, but out of nowhere, it ended up being 50 degrees and one of the warmest days of the winter,” Moshier said. “It was like it was meant to happen.”
The next weekend, Sumner traveled to Lincoln for the Penobscot Valley Conference Class C championships. There, the Tigers beat out a strong field that included Central and Mattanawcook Academy to win their second conference title in as many weeks.
Neither of the first two meet wins, though, could compare to the Tigers’ first-place finish in Saturday’s Northern Maine championships. With Doughty’s family looking in the Cross Insurance Center crowd, Sumner brought home the regional title for the first time since her junior year.
“It makes it even more special [that Whitney was on that team],” Moshier said. “We feel like we’re recreating a legacy that was started and never got to finish, and we want to keep pushing and keep working hard for it.”
Snowdeal said Sumner’s competitors have expressed their support for Doughty and the team throughout the season. Bucksport presented the Tigers with a card and flowers at regionals, and Cristy Strout, head coach of a Central team that’s always one of Sumner’s biggest challengers, is the first one to congratulate Snowdeal’s squad when the Tigers earn a first-place finish.
“[Cheer] is like one big family,” Snowdeal said. “We push each other, and it’s a good little rivalry we have going, but they’re always there for us.”
With two weeks between regional and state championship meets, Sumner is currently hard at work preparing to compete for a Class C title to be held next Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Augusta Civic Center. In addition to competing against Central and Mattanawcook squads that have pushed them this year, the Tigers will also be up against Class C South champ Monmouth and 2019 state champion Lisbon.
Winning its first state championship since Doughty’s junior season would be a grand ending for a Sumner team that’s already made her dedication season its best in years. After all the signs they’ve seen thus far, the Tigers have every reason to believe Whitney Doughty will be there once more when they take to the mats for the final time this year.
“It means so much more to know that what we’ve done is all for her,” Mowery said. “We know she’ll be up there smiling down on us.”
EHS, Bucksport qualify for state championships
Sumner wasn’t the only local team to qualify for the state cheer championships Saturday as Ellsworth and Bucksport also booked their trips to Augusta.
In Class B North, Ellsworth scored 67.7 points to take third behind regional champ Hermon and second-place Brewer. In C North, Bucksport earned 57.7 to finish behind Sumner, Central, Mattanawcook and Houlton.