Spunk City: Barron grad Pitkin a big part of Eagles’ spirit squad

A former Barron Collier High cheerleader, you can now find Paige Pitkin inside Alico Arena performing at FGCU basketball and volleyball games. PHOTO BY LINWOOD FERGUSON

BY PATRICK CLINES
SPECIAL TO CSI

Aside from the Dirty Birds, there is a squad that helps bring spirit to Florida Gulf Coast University volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball games: the cheerleaders. 

One member who coaches and teammates say is the most positive on the squad is junior Paige Pitkin. 

A Naples native who graduated from Barron Collier High School, Pitkin, a finance major, has been cheering since she was a little girl. She joined the FGCU cheerleading squad in the fall of 2017.

“I started cheerleading at 5 years old,” said Pitkin, who’s used to performing in front of large crowds going back to her days cheerleading for Barron Collier’s football team. “I was a gymnast who didn’t like the beam or the bars, but loved tumbling. From the very first time Coach John Bencomo (owner of Top Gun All Stars) put me up in the air to fly, I knew I had found my athletic home.”

After graduating from Barron Collier, Pitkin enrolled at the University of Alabama for her freshman year. Her time in Tuscaloosa was short-lived, though. Too far from home, she enrolled at FGCU at the start of her sophomore year.

“I missed the beach, the beautiful weather, and most importantly my family,” Pitkin said. 

Using her gymnastics experience, Pitkin went through a tryout to become an FGCU cheerleader. She’s one of three Collier County natives on the Eagles squad — fellow junior Lexy Cooper, also a Barron Collier grad, and Marco Island Academy product Olivia Scarpelli, a sophomore, are the other two.

(Southwest Florida as a whole is well represented on FGCU’s cheerleading roster, with junior Kelsey Allen and sophomore Joseph Lopez hailing from Cape Coral and Port Charlotte, respectively.)

“Through the years of competitive cheer at Top Gun I knew I had something to offer the university, as well as find my friends, and continue my journey as an athlete,” Pitkin said.

Paige Pitkin performs to the classic Beach Boys tune “Surfin’ USA” during an Eagles basketball game. PHOTO BY LINWOOD FERGUSON

It turned out that Pitkin was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle that FGCU’s head cheer coach, Emily Chaikin, was seeking.

“Paige has been a great asset to the team,” Chaikin said. “She consistently works hard, came onto the team with great experience in tumbling and stunting, and is always positive and enthusiastic. Paige does not stop; she is always working hard and motivating others to do so as well.”

Pitkin’s positivity has spread throughout the squad, and particularly to seniors Bailey Spenlau and cheer captain Caragan Phillips, both of whom have cheered with Pitkin for two years.

“Paige’s bubbly and positive personality has been most influencing for me,” Spenlau said.

“I will never forget how she breaks out into song and dances to any and every song that plays over the (Alico Arena sound system).”

Said Phillips: “Paige is a little ball of energy. Cheering with her is fun because of her always positive attitude and spunky personality. She is one of a kind.”

Among all of her teammates, Phillips is closest with Pitkin. She takes her in as her “little.”

“I truly admire her and love her,” Phillips said. “She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. I am lucky to call her a friend and a sister.”

Chaikin said one performance by Pitkin during a game last year really stands out in her mind. It involved a classic Beach Boys tune.

“One of the best memories I had with Paige was her being selected for our ‘Surfin’ USA’ timeout because she is the most animated teammate we have,” Chaikin said. “We just couldn’t think of anyone else that could really pull off such a funky timeout. I will never forget that.”

Said Phillips: “One of my favorite memories was basing her during the beginning of my junior year and watching her do the ‘Surfin’ USA’ timeout. “I will never forget her attitude and the way she can light up a room or the whole arena. She is a ray of sunshine and we are blessed to have her on our team.”

As fate would have it, cheering for the Eagles earned Pitkin a special return trip to Tuscaloosa. Chaikin said Pitkin and her group were selected at UCA College Cheer Camp at the University of Alabama to “present a skill in front of the entire camp and many other Division I programs.”

Said Spenlau: “My favorite memory with Paige was on a walk to our cars after a long practice. It was her first year on the team and one of our first few practices together. We talked about her past year at University of Alabama and how life changes and she found herself back in Florida at FGCU. … It was great to hear her heart and passion for cheerleading and what she hoped to bring to this program.”

Pitkin does not plan on cheering professionally after her senior year; instead, she wants to work and save up money for law school. But her positivity and team spirit at FGCU games will continue into her senior year.