A trio of Lake Mary cheerleading teams are tops in the nation at Pop Warner tournament
One National Championship is impressive. Two is incredible. And three is unprecedented! This past December, three of Lake Mary’s Pop Warner cheerleading teams finished #1 in their division at the National Cheer & Dance Championships held at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
“Our season begins August 1 with the football season, and our first competition is in October, so we don’t have a ton of time to get ready,” explains program director and Junior Varsity cheer coach Lisa Citrano. “Anyone who signs up is part of our team – this is a true rec program. If you sign up, you participate.”
Until October, the teams focus on game-day cheers and halftime routines. When the football season is over, they start learning competition routines, which are completely different, says Lisa. Competitive routines are between a minute-and-a-half and two-minutes, 20 seconds.
“To learn these routines, these girls have put in about 90 to 100 hours of practice before the conference competition,” says Lisa. “The girls work hard for a short presentation in front of the judges. You get 90 seconds – that’s it.”
In order to attend the national competition at Disney, the teams had to advance from both the mid-Florida local conference and the Southeast regional conference competitions. Only the top two teams in each age group advance.
“Mid-Florida is one of the largest local conferences in all of national Pop Warner,” says Lisa. “So for us to move out of our conference, it’s a big deal.”
The National Cheer & Dance Championships featured more than 500 cheer and dance teams that competed at a six-day event in early December. Three of the Lake Mary teams – Mitey-Mites, Pee Wee, and Junior Varsity – won for the game-day cheer, using megaphones, signs, and stunts to engage the crowd.
The JV team, made up of middle schoolers ages 11 to 14, has now won the National Championship in this division two years in a row.
“These girls have won two national titles, which is pretty amazing,” says Lisa. “But the thing that I am most proud of is how much they have grown into confident and caring young women. We have spent a lot of time working on effectively communicating issues as a group – they have learned to talk to one another and resolve struggles together. I’m also super proud of the fact that the eighth graders on my team seek out the seventh and sixth graders at school and go out of their way to say hello and make them feel important.”
During nationals, the JV team was nervous at first, “but we altered the way we enter the performance floor and focused on getting the crowd really pumped up before we actually started the routine,” Lisa says.
While the entrance itself doesn’t garner points, the girls connected with the crowd, put their jitters aside, and were able to present an explosive routine.
“They truly owned the floor, and they scored higher than they have ever scored in a competition before,” says Lisa. “It was an amazing way for the eighth graders to end their Pop Warner careers.”
Pee Wee Power
Sandra Rogers coaches the Pee Wee team, which has been cheering together for a number of years. These fifth and sixth graders practiced three nights a week for two hours apiece.
“Sometimes we even practiced four nights a week,” says Sandra. “When it came to competition day, the girls and coaches were pumped. They were a little nervous because this year we moved up an age group and a skill level, but the girls met the challenge with enthusiasm and knocked it out of the park.”
The girls were most excited about the dance portion of the routine.
“It was upbeat, fast-paced, and a lot of fun,” says Sandra. “The coaches are so very proud of the girls. They worked hard, came prepared, and rose to every challenge. They epitomized our motto: Hustle, Hit, and Never Quit. Cheer is a team effort, and these girls, coaches, and all the families involved came together as a strong unit, and the hard work and the dedication paid off. I couldn’t be more proud – we are a Lake Mary family.”
Lisa agrees. “The entire organization has become much more engaged, and it has made this year so much more meaningful,” she says. “We are all pulling for each other, and that is a huge thing for kids to witness – the feeling of community and knowing that people care about you and have your back.”
Tiny but Mighty
For the Mitey-Mites, a team of eight- and nine-year-olds, this was the first year that their age group was invited to compete.
“They practiced two to three nights a week, at least two hours a night,” says coach Jennifer Boyd. “They were extremely excited.”
The second and third graders on the team loved the stunts and worked hard to perfect their routine.
“These little girls, they work their butts off,” says Lisa. “It’s not easy what we ask them to do.”
Performing in front of judges at this age can be nerve-wracking, but the girls were ready.
“They worked very hard, and it paid off,” Jennifer says. “They truly become a family – a cheer family.”
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