It has been roughly 15 years since a cheering squad from Belfast Area High School has taken to the floor in a sanctioned, team competition.

Now, the Lions are on the threshold of their highly-anticipated return.

In the midst of its third year as a group under club status, the Lions will put their toes into the competitive waters and perform an abbreviated routine at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B cheering championships on Monday, Jan. 21 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Belfast coach Chelsea Howard said the Lions' routine will be roughly 1 ½ minutes in length — as opposed to the typical 2 ½- to 3-minute routine — “just to get them the general feel of it.”

“They’re very excited and very nervous,” she said. “A couple of them don’t really have an idea of what to expect. Last year I took most of the team with me to the regional competition so they could watch. A lot of them had never been to a competition before, so they could kind of see what they’re getting themselves into and what cheerleading was all about.”

This is Howard’s second year coaching the Lions, where Lee Parent was the team’s advisor in its first year.

Howard, formerly Chelsea Morrison, is a 2004 Sumner Area High School of East Sullivan graduate and was a member of the school’s cheer team. The Tigers were annual players in Class D on the conference, regional and state levels.

“We went to states every year,” she said. “We placed fourth our best year, we were Eastern Maine runners-up one year, we won [Penobscot Valley Conference] one year. We were always kind of in the running.”

She added that BAHS athletic director Terry Kenniston “has been very supportive this year talking with the league and making the necessary arrangements for us to perform there.”

“In year three we’ve had a pretty good turnout of kids,” Kenniston said. “They’ve consistently showed up for practices and those things, so I said to them, ‘Do you want to compete?’ ”

The end game is for Belfast to have cheerleaders at full-fledged varsity status by this time next year.

And while the Lions could have waited until then to take the mats for the first time, Kenniston said the motivation was not strictly for the Lions to get their feet wet, but to reward undoubtedly the team's senior captain.

“They want the exposure [and] they want to see what it’s like and to get that feeling [of competing,” he said. “And for those kids like a Jed Salvatore who was instrumental in starting the program and getting kids involved, he’s a senior. So to get an opportunity to participate in something like that, he deserves for all the work he’s put in. If we waited until we are officially recognized by the MPA and approved by our school board, he’d miss out on that opportunity.”

“I am really excited for this opportunity,” said Salvatore, the lone senior on this year’s squad. “I love cheerleading and I love being able to have fun and do what I love, especially after all of this work putting the team together. We are now going to be able to compete, and I’m so glad I was a vital part of getting all of this back. But I’ve waited long enough to show for all I love doing. I can’t wait.”

Howard added about Salvatore: “It’s truly because of his passion and a couple others that the team really is what it is.”

Since he was a sophomore, Salvatore has coordinated a coach, fundraised for the team, found more cheerleaders and wrote “multiple letters and [attended multiple] meetings with the school board.”

“I was so happy everything was coming together,” he said. “Everything was paying off and I haven’t stopped since. I’m so glad that people who have not felt welcome on a regular sports team have gotten the chance to be part of a team and a group and represent our school. I think it has taught me respect, discipline, pushing myself harder for the things I want and making my time through high school something to remember.”

Salvatore is one of nine team members for Belfast, in addition to sophomores Tisha Stoltz, Taytem Condon, Daisy Bradney and Ally Demmons; and freshmen Sierra-Jade Davis, Sara McIntire, Izzy Degraff and Allura Dunham.

Amanda Schiessl, Alyssa Hamman and Emily Young also are assistant coaches.

The team performs at basketball games, and can be seen and heard in the corner of the gymnasium next to the stage.

Kenniston said, to the best of his recollection, the last time a BAHS team competed in a cheer competition was 2003 at the Bangor Auditorium, where shortly thereafter, cheering, in addition to boys and girls tennis, were cut due to “budget issues,” though tennis returned a few years later.

At the time, Kenniston was the principal at Old Town High School and saw the then Indians — now Coyotes — capture state Class B cheering crowns in 1999 and 2000.

While Old Town had a topnotch program, Kenniston, in the short term, simply hopes the Lions will be able to sustain their numbers and get them back into competition form.

“After three years if the numbers sustain, and they have, the process here at Belfast is if you do that and we make the recommendation, the school board would adopt that as a varsity sport next year,” he said. “What we have to see is, will it continue to sustain. Will these younger kids who are involved come back and will the kids coming up from Troy Howard [Middle School] fill in for those kids who graduate. “

Kenniston said there have been efforts in the past to bring cheering back to BAHS, “but this is the first group that’s ever followed through and gotten to year three.”

“If we get it approved at the board level, we’ll see what our numbers are and see if it’s something we can support financially,” he said. “And we need that 10-12 whatever number of kids to do that.”

In the meantime, the Lions will prepare to take center stage. The KVACs begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21 at the ACC. The Lions will perform their routine at roughly 10:42 a.m.

“They’re excited,” said Howard. “I still think they’re going to be a little shell-shocked, but it’ll be fun.”