It was the first time a Flagler County Pop Warner cheer squad placed on the national stage.
From the beginning of August to early December, the Flagler Youth Athletic Association’s Pop Warner cheerleading teams practiced relentlessly with the intent to qualify for the Pop Warner National Cheer and Dance Championships.
With approximately 325,000 youth participants ranging from ages 5 to 16 years old, Pop Warner is the largest youth football, cheer and dance program in the world.
The Junior Pee Wee (ages 8-11), Junior Varsity (ages 10-13) and Varsity (ages 12-16) teams perfected their routines at Wadsworth Park.
They practiced in the heat, they practiced in the cold. They endured swarms of bugs and driving rain. When the field light’s weren’t working, the parents of the team members lined up their cars and turned on their headlights so the teams could keep practicing.
They were preparing for a moment that would only last about 2 1/2 minutes.
The hard work paid off. All three teams cheered and danced their way through the district championship, where they competed against local teams, the regional championship, where they competed against teams from nearby states, and finally they performed at nationals, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Dec. 3 and 5 in Kissimmee.
It was the first time all three teams qualified for the national event.
As the girls performed their routines, the parents watched anxiously.
Would they make it? Would they mess up? Would they fall?
Those were some of the thoughts that crossed the mind of Tanya Lippke, whose 11-year-old daughter Kenzie Lippke competes on the JV squad.
“It’s super nerve wracking for the adults, too,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you’re always on the edge of your seat.”
Once again, the hard work paid off: It was the first time a Pop Warner team from Flagler County placed on the national stage. Junior Pee Wee finished seventh, JV fifth and Varsity third.
A new addition to the competition this year: teams received extra points for crowd participation. Parents of the Flagler teams wore matching T-shirts and held signs to cheer on the girls.
And although they were ecstatic about their experience on the national stage, the girls felt like they could have placed even higher.
“I don’t think they quite understand their accomplishment,” Lippke said. “There’s people coming from all over the country to compete in this. This was a big deal. They’re even more motivated now to finish top three next year.”