Two minutes and 30 seconds.
That’s how quickly a competitive cheerleading team’s season can end.
“Unlike any other sport — where you get to play 10 or 12 games — in cheerleading, you get two minutes and 30 seconds to show everything you’ve worked on over the past three months,” Theresa Bryant, Ocoee Bulldogs junior peewee cheerleading coach, said. “You have to compact all the jumps, all the turns, all the motions, all the synchronizations into a nonstop two-minute-and-30-second routine on a 48-square-foot mat. That’s what you get. And if you don’t place first or second, you don’t get to move on.”
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A HISTORIC YEAR
So when Bryant’s junior peewee team added 10 new members, introduced a second competition routine in the Pom Performance division and only had from August to October to practice before its first competition, it was more than probable that this would be a learning year for the fifth- and sixth-grade girls.
“Out of our 18 girls, 10 of them never cheered before,” Bryant said. “It’s their very first time cheering. This was introductory to them, and the Ocoee Bulldogs cheerleading program is a recreational one through Pop Warner. … It’s a little bit different than the All-Star cheer program, where they only do competitions. Our girls also have to work on learning sideline cheers for Pop Warner games on Saturdays.”
But it wasn’t a learning year. It was a historic one.
Despite the majority of the team never competing in the sport, competing in a new division and only having 90 days to prepare for their first competition, all the Bulldogs did was win.
They won the Mid-Florida Pop Warner Pom Performance competition.
They won the Regional Pop Warner Pom Performance competition.
They won the National Pop Warner Pom Performance competition — improving their score by 15 points from their first outing in late October.
“They’re an amazing group,” Bryant said. “Ten of them: I’ve never met a day in my life. So, I had to adapt to their ways of learning to help them become the best cheerleaders possible. That very first practice, I asked them what their goals were, and they told me they just wanted to learn the sport. But by the time the first competition came around, they flipped a switch and wanted to keep moving on to the next level. That helped them understand when I was being tough on them, or when I was trying to correct them … because they got to learn the competitive side of cheerleading.”
Jazzlynn Flores, 11, one of the eight returning members of the team, echoes her coach’s sentiment, when asked what her favorite part of this season has been she said she enjoys working together with her teammates and spending time with them, but the best part was: “Just winning competitions.”
That drive is what got them those wins — and also earned the Bulldogs a bid to do something special.
THE ROAD TO THE GARDEN STATE
Next month, the Bulldogs will compete on the global stage at the biggest cheerleading competition in the world: The Youth Cheer & Dance Alliance Globals at the Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
YCADA Globals, unlike the Pop Warner competitions the Bulldogs won, brings together every cheerleading and dance organization in the country and internationally for one of the sport’s biggest youth competitions.
There is one thing standing in the way of this group of cheerleaders and their shot at competing against the world’s best: It’s going to cost about $500 each for the 18 cheerleaders and their five coaches.
That’s about $11,500 for the team — not including any of the cheerleaders’ parents.
But just like the determination the girls showed to learn the sport and get to this point, their community is rallying around these 18 and is doing whatever it takes to get the Bulldogs to Globals.
“This is (a) once-in-a-lifetime (opportunity),” Bryant said. “We don’t have to go. You can make it to Globals and not go to the competition. Our president asked me why we’re going, and I told her they may never be able to go again. You don’t know what you’re going to get the next season. … You don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow.
“I’ve told our parents who have said they don’t have the money not to worry,” she said. “We’ll do whatever to make sure that we make this money. My goal is that we make sure that every child on this team goes to Globals and that they won’t have to worry about a cent. So, I’ve been grinding as a coach to make sure of that … and we’ve been fundraising like crazy and asking our community to help our children reach Globals.”
Bryant isn’t alone in the fundraising efforts. She has a slew of moms, dads and grandparents doing everything they can to help.
“We do little things online to fundraise,” Kay Stewart — whose granddaughter, Gracie, is a first-year member of the team — said. “We’re also reaching out to people on Facebook, and friends and family to contribute. We had some money that was leftover from one of our other fundraisers, so we’re using that to go toward the airfare, but we still are short. Each girl is doing (her) part with (her) family to try to bring in the money we need. It’s really a team effort. We don’t have a set person who is going out and fundraising for us, we’re all just trying to pull together and do as much as we can.”
For Stewart, the effort to fundraise is worth it for many reasons, but one stands head and shoulders above all the others.
“The smile on her face,” she said. “She absolutely loves this. She has learned how to work together. They have formed bonds that will never be broken. … Their coach is excellent, too. She teaches them manners, how to get along with each other, but the smile it puts on her face is enough for me.”
If you or your business want to help get the Bulldogs to Globals, the team is accepting donations and is offering sponsorship opportunities. Please reach out to their coach Theresa Bryant via email at [email protected] or contact the league’s president Sueann Cotanche at 407-832-0901.
You can also find more details in the team’s sponsorship letter.
Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.
Email: [email protected]