Fairfield is doubly proud this week after cheerleaders from both of the town's high schools placed in the top three among the Fairfield County Inter Athletic Conference competition, held Sunday at Wilton High School.

Fairfield Warde High School cheerleaders came out on top, winning first place and grand champion honors with the highest score of the day at 166.5, besting 15 other teams.

Warde's cross-town counterparts at Fairfield Ludlowe were not far behind. That squad's score of 155 earned them third place in the competition.

The squads may be local rivals on the football field and basketball court, but the cheerleading teams from both schools set aside their competition to support each other at the FCIAC event.

"Even though they're our rivals we are united as one town. We actually had T-shirts made. The front said, `United as one town' and the back said, `Fairfield Warde Ludlowe Cheer,' " said Stephanie Falcone, coach of the Warde squad. "It's a great feeling when you have another 20 girls, their coaches and fans cheering you on. It was a great feeling of camaraderie."

"We've supported each other at past competitions. It gives us more confidence having more fans rooting for us on the floor. It's good to have a good rivalry, but it's better to have a great relationship," said Britney St. Pierre, 17, the co-captain of the Warde squad with C. J. Sereno, also 17. Both are seniors.

The Warde cheerleaders credit internal camaraderie, in part, with their successes this year. They have earned three first-place wins and three grand champion designations at their last three meets.

"For once we can say our team truly gets along. I know people who say their team loves each other (but) the 18 girls we have now really do love each other and we get along inside and outside of school," Sereno said.

Falcone said the Warde team members have a love for cheerleading and each other "and when they take the floor you really see they do it with heart."

"What sets us apart are all the little things that they judges look for: the expression, the enthusiasm, transitions (from one move to another) and the formations," Falcone said.

They perform their 2½-minute routine to a medley of music with love as the theme. "Our routine is very fun to watch and it brings you in," Falcone said.

Another factor for the team's unprecedented success may be the twice-weekly conditioning training sessions that Sereno and St. Pierre added to the cheerleading schedule, which also includes three nights of practice each week. "We've been doing things differently. Having three wins in a row is a great change and it's starting a new traditions. This being my senior year makes it even more special," said Ariel Hendrick, 17, who won third place with a handful of teammates in the partner stunt sequence competition. Two separate groups of Ludlowe cheerleaders won first and second place in the stunt sequence event.

"This is the best record we've had," said Sereno, who also placed third in a field of 41 cheerleaders who participated in individual competition. Those competitors were required to perform their own cheer, three jumps and a tumbling pass of their best skills. The individual competition determined those named to the All-FCIAC team. Sereno was joined on the All-FCIAC team by teammates Ariel Hendrick and Elise Sondheim.