Bridesmaids no more

Eagles capture state cheer title


GAINESVILLE – Fleming Island High School exorcised five years’ worth of demons, nailing a challenging routine to capture the Class 2A FHSAA State Competitive Cheerleading Championship at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville on February 1.

Competing in the Large Co-Ed Division, Fleming Island’s score of 89.6 edged five-time defending champion Bartow by 0.7 points. Clay High finished third with a score of 84.25.

After scoring an 81.6 at the Section 1 Regional at Oakleaf on January 19, Ryan Andrews, who coaches the team with Janae O’Dell and is the choreographer, added more difficulty to the Golden Eagles’ routine, upgrading the pyramid and the initial stunt sequence.

“We added a quarter turn to what was already a 360 degree twist-up into an inverted position [a handstand while being held up by another cheerleader], and did layouts out of our initial stunt, leading directly to a toss into a heel stretch,” said Andrews. “That’s pretty elite stuff.”

During the cheer portion of the routine, the Golden Eagles executed a torch into an extension, another difficult skill.

The Golden Eagles had been the runners-up to Bartow in each of the last five years, losing by margins between 0.25 and 16.55 points. Rather than focus on beating any particular school, however, Fleming Island’s goal was to be the best version of themselves and to execute their routine.

“It is not like basketball, where when you score two points you score them against another team,” Andrews explained. “It is really up to the judges.”

While the Golden Eagles were pleased with their flawless performance, it was also clear that winning the title had its own significance. When the scores were announced, the Golden Eagles jumped, screamed, and hugged jubilantly. Even Andrews allowed that he “had an out of body experience. I am over-the-top proud of the kids.”

The Bartow routine was also extremely difficult, but the Yellow Jackets suffered a fall and several other glitches. Bartow had scored an 88.6 at their Regional.

A perfect performance is rare, but Andrews said he sensed it before the Golden Eagles took the floor.

“I could see it in their eyes during warm-ups,” said Andrews. “They have been gaining a lot of confidence, and have been having so much fun together, so it seemed almost like a pressure-free performance.”

Andrews credited the success to outstanding team chemistry and the quick progress O’Dell and the female cheerleaders made training the four new boys that joined the team for this season.

“Every year we have to recruit the boys and train them from scratch,” said AndrewsThe championship trophy is the Golden Eagles’ second, and will sit alongside the one from 2013 already in their trophy case.

With eight freshmen on the squad and with one girl out due to injury, Clay still improved dramatically on the 73.30 the Blue Devils had scored at the Regional. Clay, normally a Class 1A competitor due to its student population, was forced to compete in Class 2A because Clay was the only Class 1A Large Co-Ed team to qualify for the State Championship.

The Blue Devils cleanly executed their routine, which featured toss libs across the floor, with no falls and just one bobble. A toss lib is a stunt whereby the boy throws the flyer above his head, holding her there by one foot while the flyer lifts her other knee level with her waist.

“Much improved [over the Regional]. I was extremely proud of the team and their performance,” said Clay Coach Lori Davis. “We held our own in a tough division against some really great teams.”

Clay earned the bronze medal for the second consecutive year. The top three distanced themselves from the rest of the competition, with fourth place finisher Freedom High School of Orlando coming in 25 points behind Clay.

All six Clay County public schools participated, with Ridgeview (with a score of 83.1 in the Small Non-Tumbling Division) and Oakleaf (a 75.6 in the Extra Large Division) earning fourth place finishes. Orange Park and Middleburg, with scores of 72.0 and 64.9, did not make it past the semifinal round in the Medium and Medium Co-ed Divisions.

Clay and Fleming Island will now vie for a national championship in the Medium Co-Ed Division at the UCA Nationals in Orlando on February 9, 2019.


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