Sophia Wing knows what it means to sacrifice.
A competitive cheerleader for over a decade now, she’s long since lost track of how many times she’s had to decline offers from friends to hang out after class. If she wasn’t in school or at home studying — doing her best to maintain a 3.94 GPA that has her a member of Georgetown’s National Honors Society — she was at East Celebrity Elite Cheer Gym in Tewksbury, taking extra lessons every week to expand and perfect her craft.
The social life that so many high schoolers cherish took a back seat long ago.
But that’s what it takes to be an athlete of Wing’s caliber.
And a couple of months ago, all of her hard work and dedication saw a massive payoff. Wing, a rising senior at Georgetown, was offered and quickly verbally committed to join the Acrobatics & Tumbling team at Division 1 University of Oregon. And yes, we mean that University of Oregon, with the Duck mascot and the colorful football helmets. A rapidly-growing sport at the NCAA level, acro & tumbling is a hybrid mix of gymnastics and cheerleading that has athletes work as a team to perform tumbling, multiple types of lifts and tosses and choreographed routines.
“Basically, it was two days of tours out in Oregon,” Wing started. “I got to watch the team do their weight practice, ate dinner with the coaches, met the team and saw the dorms I’d be staying in. I saw everything. and I didn’t think that they would offer us then, I didn’t see it coming. But after we toured the Matthew Knight Arena (where the team competes), we were sitting in the lounge area and they said they wanted to offer me a spot on the roster. They were like, ‘You can wait to decide, we know it’s a big decision.’ But I was like ‘No, I’m signing now!’
“It was awesome. Ever since we started the process it’s pretty much only been Oregon where I wanted to go. It just validated all of the time I’ve put into it over the years.”
Finding here niche
Growing up, Wing tried every sport under the sun.
“I just never found anything that I loved,” she said. “But once I got into cheerleading, I fell in love with it right away.”
That led her to start going to ECE in Tewksbury, and Wing quickly established herself as one of the brightest young stars in the gym. She’s consistently been one of the younger girls on her Elite team — The Bombshells — and made the transition from her Level 6 Junior Team, which is the highest level one can reach, to the Level 6 Senior Team as soon as she was eligible at age 14.
“She’s just a hard worker,” said ECE gym owner Cheryl Pasinato. “She came in with a lot of raw talent, but she was also a native. She’s been on our high-level teams since she’s been a young kid. and as a person she’s a great kid too. She helps out with coaching the little ones and likes to see them working on what she did when she was that age.
“She’s just a true athlete. No matter what sport she would have picked, she would have excelled at it.”
And the success has followed the work ethic.
Wing’s Bombshell team — which normally consists of 30 girls — won the 2019 World Cheerleading Senior Championship down at the ESPN Cheer Arena in Florida. She’s also a four-time Junior Summit champion, and this past season — as a rare junior captain — Wing helped the team take a surprise second place at Worlds. and this of course has paired with her time spent on the Georgetown cheerleading team, where she was a captain last year as a junior and is captain-elect for the upcoming season.
She also helped the Royals win a CAL Open title in 2019 under coaches Tracy Wood and Tracey Zimiorwski.
“It’s been amazing to watch,” said Wing’s Bombshells coach Steve Belanger. “I’ve known her since she joined our Junior Elite team and she’s always had an incredible work ethic. She’s always in the gym. It didn’t surprise me at all when I heard she had committed. I think she’ll be great at (acrobatics & tumbling). She has a ton of competitive experience under her belt as far as handling pressure situations.”
Desire to compete
While success has followed Wing in the cheerleading world, a couple of years ago she had a realization.
“There aren’t really a lot of cheerleading opportunities in college,” she said.
Luckily, in stepped acrobatics & tumbling at the perfect time.
Becoming an NCAA sanctioned sport in August of 2020, there are now 41 schools nationwide between all three divisions that offer acrobatics & tumbling. Oregon is one of six schools at the Division 1 level, along with Morgan State, Duquesne, Baylor, Quinnipiac and Presbyterian.
Knowing she wanted to make the transition to the sport in college, Wing had to expand her game.
She grew up as a “flyer” being tossed in the air, but for the past couple of years has transitioned to being a tumbler and a base. She also started taking private lessons once a week with tumbling specialist Casey Ballou at ECE to improve that aspect of her craft.
“She’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever met,” said Ballou. “She’s one of the strongest bases and one of the strongest tumblers, so she’s got a bit of everything. She has all the skills she needs already to compete in college.
“She’s just a beast.”
But while all of Wing’s coaches rave about her work ethic, what they also emphasize is her leadership.
Between her high school team and her ECE team, Wing will be a rare four-time captain. And now that her commitment is out of the way, the plan is to cheer for Georgetown during the fall season before competing with ECE until graduation.
Then, it’ll be off to Eugene, Oregon.
“I trust myself and I trust my teammates,” said Wing. “Something that I’ve learned from being a captain is to have empathy for others and to give them help when they need. Learning to be an advocate for others if they’re uncomfortable with something or frustrated in any way.
“I love it the most when we have a really good practice. If we have a really great practice, we all feel really good about ourselves, and I know for me personally that it makes me feel strong and powerful. I think going through all of this has really taught me about mental toughness and dedication.”
The first recruit in her class, the Ducks have landed a good one in Wing.