Weekly Feature



2018-02-08 / Sports

Twins prepare for final hoops games at JFK

Jacob Braniecki gives Jonny plenty to cheer about as lone male on squad
by JASON NADOLINSKI
Reporter

Jacob and Jonny Braniecki certainly aren’t the first twin brothers to put their athletic talents on display at the same time in the history of sports, nor will they be the last.

It’s safe to say, though, that Jake gets an extra dose of encouragement from Jonny while he’s putting up points, pulling down rebounds and blocking shots on the basketball court. After all, Jonny can’t help but be a little louder and more boisterous for his brother than he is for the other Bears that he cheers on as the lone male member of JFK’s cheerleading squad.

And with Wednesday’s Senior Night contest against Depew serving as JFK’s final home game of the season, it could be the final opportunity for Jonny to support his brother in an official capacity, depending on where JFK finishes in the sectional seeding. That’s because ever since cheerleading was classified by the section and the state as a competitive sport and there are multi-school tournaments to compete in, JFK does not send its cheerleaders to away games during the basketball season.

Needless to say, JFK’s home finale – which took place after The Bee had gone Jacob Braniecki pushes the ball up the court during the JFK boys basketball team’s 57-34 victory at Tonawanda on Thursday. The senior has been one of the squad’s leaders this season, averaging 16.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.9 assists per game through 15 contests this winter. Both Jacob Braniecki and his twin brother Jonny, who is on the cheerleading squad, were looking forward to the program’s Senior Night game with Akron, which took place the evening before The Bee was published. Jonny Braniecki photo by Don DalyJacob Braniecki photo by Jason NadolinskiPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Jacob Braniecki pushes the ball up the court during the JFK boys basketball team’s 57-34 victory at Tonawanda on Thursday. The senior has been one of the squad’s leaders this season, averaging 16.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.9 assists per game through 15 contests this winter. Both Jacob Braniecki and his twin brother Jonny, who is on the cheerleading squad, were looking forward to the program’s Senior Night game with Akron, which took place the evening before The Bee was published. Jonny Braniecki photo by Don DalyJacob Braniecki photo by Jason NadolinskiPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com to press for the week – was shaping up to be quite the celebration on multiple fronts for the Braniecki brothers, as well as the other seniors on both the basketball and the cheerleading teams.

“Honestly, I haven’t been looking forward to Senior Night this year because the thought of playing my last regular-season home game at JFK is a surreal thought to me, and it is going to be a very emotional night,” said Jacob Braniecki, a two-year member of the varsity basketball team. “Right now I am more focused on beating our opponents than all of the pre-game traditions of Senior Night. However, it definitely has been an awesome experience to have my twin brother cheering for me because of the fact that every time he cheers when I score a basket or do something to help the team, I know it is real emotion and happiness. That’s just great to see and hear as a player.”

“It doesn’t seem like it is my last season,” Jonny Braniecki said. “It has yet to hit me that this time next year I won’t be cheering at JFK anymore. JFK cheer will always hold a special place in my heart and I am so happy I have been a part of this amazing journey. It’s part of why being named captain my last season on the team was very special to me.”

Through 15 games this season, Jacob Braniecki is pacing the Bears in every statistical category other than assists. He’s scored 245 points, grabbed 126 rebounds, blocked 30 shots and snagged 28 steals while also dishing out 25 assists this season as one of the most reliable players game in and game out. Jacob Braniecki is slightly ahead in one fewer game this season than where he finished his junior campaign, when he was the team’s leading scorer (209 points) and shot blocker (30 blocks), grabbed the third-most records (100) and finished tied for fourth in steals (19).

“Jake has consistently performed like one of our best players this season and is a huge reason for the success we’ve had,” basketball coach Tony Krupski said. “The biggest difference between this year and last year is his maturity. He has embraced the role of being one of our team’s leaders; he’s been a hard worker in practice and taken things more seriously. He has put in the time and effort to improve his own game, and also to help make our team more successful. He is becoming more of a complete player, too. He has always been able to score, but he has become a better defender, rebounder, and shot blocker this year as well.”

“I’ve just tried to be a leader and get behind the guys who look to me for advice,” Jacob Braniecki said. “I know I’ve got to go out and perform every game, and I have to do my best to keep the guys playing at the level we are at right now. That’s part of what makes it great when we go on a run and the fans get behind us. The energy in our gym when we are on a roll this year has been unreal and a big key to our success. And, again, Jonny’s played a big part in that. Jonny’s support throughout my whole basketball career has always meant so much to me and it will continue to mean that much to me even as my senior season comes to a close. Hopefully he will have more chances to give his support this season as well.”

Heading into Tuesday’s game against Holland, the 11-4 Bears were almost completely assured of at least one home playoff game this season by way of their third-place standing among the 16 Class B-2 schools who will begin their postseason battles later this month. That will mean that Jonny Braniecki and the rest of the cheerleading squad will get at least one other opportunity to show their support for the basketball team.

That’s because the winter competitive cheerleading schedule officially came to an end for JFK Sunday at the Section VI Championships at Buffalo State College. According to Section VI Cheerleading Chairperson Michele Ziegler, JFK was one of seven co-ed squads to compete at the Invitational. All but Silver Creek, which had two males on its squad, had just one male on their respective rosters.

The cheerleading squad will still be present at any playoff games JFK competes in, however, and the cheerleaders will also cheer for the girls’ basketball team in John F. Kennedy’s basketball cheerleading team was one of seven schools to compete as a co-ed squad at this past weekend’s Section VI Championships thanks to senior Jonny Braniecki, second from right in the back row. Braniecki helped the team finish third in the co-ed varsity division at Iroquois’ Chief Cheer Class competition on Jan. 30, which is where this photo was taken. Members of the squad include, from left: first row, Rylee Vitez, Makayla Meredith, Gina Sarama; second row, team manager Lisa Chavis, asst. coach Ivyonna Gandolph, Hailee Gribble, Madison Pawarski, Samantha Kolbert, Victoria Gandolph, Jacklyn Czapla, Braniecki and head coach Misty Dosch. Squad member Kaylee Watkins is missing from the photo. John F. Kennedy’s basketball cheerleading team was one of seven schools to compete as a co-ed squad at this past weekend’s Section VI Championships thanks to senior Jonny Braniecki, second from right in the back row. Braniecki helped the team finish third in the co-ed varsity division at Iroquois’ Chief Cheer Class competition on Jan. 30, which is where this photo was taken. Members of the squad include, from left: first row, Rylee Vitez, Makayla Meredith, Gina Sarama; second row, team manager Lisa Chavis, asst. coach Ivyonna Gandolph, Hailee Gribble, Madison Pawarski, Samantha Kolbert, Victoria Gandolph, Jacklyn Czapla, Braniecki and head coach Misty Dosch. Squad member Kaylee Watkins is missing from the photo. its Senior Game on Monday — an annual tradition — on top of doing one final performance of the competition routine at a winter pep rally on Friday, Feb. 16.

Jonny Braniecki is the only male that JFK basketball and football cheerleading coach Misty Dosch has had on her squads in her four years with the programs, and right from the first day of tryouts, Dosch – who hasn’t coached any other male cheerleaders in her 12 years coaching the sport – knew there was no question she’d be keeping him for as long as he wanted to remain on the squad.

“A lot of people don’t know, but even though cheerleading is traditionally a sport for females in New York, it actually is a co-ed sport,” Dosch said. “Tons of schools across the nation – whether they’re high schools, colleges or just all-star teams – have males on their teams, so when I hold tryouts, anyone can join our team. Jonny first showed up to tryouts with no prior cheerleading skills, but he had a natural talent and caught onto a lot that first season. By his second year he was one of our best back spots and began to learn how to tumble.”

“The thing that drew me to cheerleading was the tumbling aspect and the stunting abilities, because I always loved to watch the crazy stunts where they throw girls up in the air and do back flips across the court,” Jonny Braniecki said. “I always looked up to cheerleaders because of what they were capable of doing, so when I made the team I was obviously excited but also kind of nervous. I was nervous for all of my peers in school to find out at first but everyone was so accepting and nice when they realized how much athleticism it takes. They know what I can do, and it’s more than just yelling and shaking pompoms.”

Anyone who thinks that cheerleading isn’t a sport hasn’t had the chance to check out a competitive squad in action. As Jonny Braniecki said, much more JFK senior Jonny Braniecki elevates cheerleading teammate Rylee Vitez into the air during an unassisted one-man lift in practice Monday. Braniecki, whose stunt is being watched by fellow teammates Samantha Kolbert, left, Makayla Meredith and Kayla Schultz, became JFK’s first male cheerleader since the 1990s when he joined the team as a freshman, according to Athletics Director Mark Ostempowski. JFK senior Jonny Braniecki elevates cheerleading teammate Rylee Vitez into the air during an unassisted one-man lift in practice Monday. Braniecki, whose stunt is being watched by fellow teammates Samantha Kolbert, left, Makayla Meredith and Kayla Schultz, became JFK’s first male cheerleader since the 1990s when he joined the team as a freshman, according to Athletics Director Mark Ostempowski. than yelling and shaking pompoms take place at competitions like Sunday’s Sectional Invitational; multiple stunts and feats of strength are on display. And having a male like Braniecki on the squad opens up a multitude of additional options – and degrees of difficulty – for Dosch to contemplate when coming up with a routine for competitions.

“I had always wanted a male to try out for my cheer teams, but never had the chance until Jonny came along,” Dosch said. “Having Jonny on the team allowed me to start learning about co-ed stunts and how to teach them to the team. It made it really easy when Jonny had a natural talent and was willing to keep pushing himself. He is an extremely strong backspot, and as such he is able to keep girls in the air through any bobble where maybe a female backspot wouldn’t be able to. He can even put a girl in the air by himself in an ‘unassisted one-man,’ which is impressive. However, we do have extremely strong females on the team to where two of them can put a girl in the air.

“From the beginning, though, everyone loved Jonny,” Dosch continued. “I think every cheer team wants to have a boy on their team, because when you go to a cheer competition everyone goes nuts for the boy on the co-ed team. He obviously brings strength to our stunts, but he also changes the team dynamic. It is different when females and males get to participate in a sport together, since it allows for a unique interaction and different perspectives.”

“Cheerleading is by far the hardest sport I have ever participated in,” Jonny Braniecki said. “I played baseball for almost 12 years of my life and basketball for about four or five, and nothing compared to the conditioning and endurance that you need to be a cheerleader, especially during my time of all-star cheerleading at Wild All-Stars. Between tumbling, stunting and all of the dancing and jumping that takes place in all of two and a half minutes, the competition mat is something most athletes who don’t participate in cheer cannot comprehend.

“Even to this day, people say that cheerleading is not a sport and that anyone can do it,” Jonny Braniecki continued. “Although I get a little annoyed, I know it is probably just because they have never actually seen what we do either at practice or at competitions. Practice is filled with conditioning and full outs, which are so exhausting; personally, I do not think someone who doesn’t cheer could do them and actually survive after. Cheerleaders do not wear any padding either — no head gear, no shoulder pads and no mouth guards. We are almost completely exposed when we throw girls 20 feet in the air and sometimes it is more dangerous than any high school sport. Every sport is hard in its own way but cheer is all those sports combined with no protection. It is a contact sport in my eyes and a lot of people don’t realize the risks we take every day doing what we love.”

The risks of cheerleading can come with rewards to be sure, rewards such as the athletic scholarship Jonny Braniecki has been offered to continue his cheering career at Gannon University. Though he has not committed to Gannon or even the possibility of cheering at the next level, it is certainly something that Jonny Braniecki is entertaining. Until then, however, he is going to continue providing the support he has given his brother and the rest of the basketball team all season, while enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates on the cheerleading squad at the same time.

“I think it is awesome seeing my brother excel on the court and I am so happy I get to cheer him on through it all,” Jonny Braniecki said. “If I did not try out for the cheer team, who knows where I would be today. I found the sport by taking a risk and doing something out of what’s considered ‘normal,’ and I’ve learned a ton of skills and life lessons along the way. To any guys wanting to try out for the team, I say do it; don’t be afraid or have any regrets.”

“Since Jonny is graduating this year, we really would love to have another male on the team in the future,” Dosch said. “As of now we don’t have any males who are interested, but I’m hoping someone would decide to come out to tryouts this fall. Male cheerleaders are definitely growing in popularity in Western New York, so I’m definitely hoping Jonny’s participation starts a trend here at JFK.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

Return to top