LHP Cheer Soars Into States


Photo courtesy of Mia Castro, grade 12.

Members of the team admitted they were nervous about competing at Regionals this year. They attributed these fears to the setbacks in the weeks leading up to it due to COVID-19. But, with more practice came more confidence for their performance.

Luis Roldan Cuba, Co-Editor

Aside from pep rallies and football games, it can be easy to think that Lake Highland’s cheerleading team is on a hiatus throughout the rest of the school year. But with practices from 6:15A.M. until 7:30A.M. five days a week, the team is not stopping anytime soon, especially since they are heading to Gainesville for the Florida State Championships. With Seniors making up much of the Varsity Cheer Team, it can be a bittersweet feeling knowing that they have come this far. However, members of the team were eager to share their personal experiences and reflect on how a group effort led them to this point.

When asked about what motivated teammates to join the sport, their responses seemed to all root from a childhood passion. For Carlee McCook, grade 12, cheer has been a part of her daily life for as long as she can remember. She explained, “I started cheerleading in 7th grade, but I did cheer camps every summer when I was little. I always watched the varsity cheer team at the football games, and I always thought they were super cool, and I wanted to be just like them.” McCook feels as though it has slowly become her moral responsibility to raise school spirit for Lake Highland students. It is that aspect of the sport that makes her truly happy when performing.

Not all cheerleaders were as fascinated with the sport from such an early age. However Mia Castro, grade 12, took an alternative path in order to find her calling for cheer. Mia admits that, “I have played soccer my whole life, but when I came to LHP in 8th grade I was already trying a new school, so I figured why not try a new sport. And that’s how I became interested in cheerleading.” Both Carlee and Mia have since become involved in the cheerleading community both inside and outside of Lake Highland. They, and other members of the team, have even served as mentors to younger students in Lower School in hopes that they too will develop new skills, such as tumbling and clasping, which is similar to clapping except it creates a sharper look to the routine.

When it comes to success on the mat, Carlee gave some of her own perspectives, explaining that, “Every one of my teammates pushes me to be my best. I know that is cliche, but on this team, it is 110% true. Also, our coaches, Coach Michael Burns and Coach Meghan Smith, give us the reinforcement we need to succeed.” Carlee elaborated on her coaches’ ability to push her out of her comfort zone and how they, as well as her teammates, have become almost family to her. During their years together, they have also created unconventional ways to form bonds. According to Juliette Benoist, grade 12, they found a good luck charm that has helped calm their nerves before and after performances. Noting how even a silly plush toy can greatly change their attitudes and spirits to cheer to the best of their abilities, Juliette elaborates that, “We have a new [ritual] this year. It is a stuffed polar bear, and we call him Richard. We brought it to regionals and ended up doing better than we ever hoped so we bring him everywhere now.” Additionally, the time they have spent traveling to destination competitions has sprouted even more creativity to ease the stress of schoolwork and cheerleading. “My friend and I even made a music video for an extra credit math assignment on the bus ride to the football state championships!” Juliette exclaimed.

Through trial and error, they have learned over the years that making mistakes only makes the team stronger. From recovering after a drop stunt to messing up in the middle of a routine, they have each experienced their fair share of challenges. Despite these challenges, the Cheer Team has achieved great success. In order to continue this, Mia’s, “Advice to future members would be that, even though cheer can be very stressful at times, especially when you can’t get a stunt the first couple of times, it is all so rewarding which makes it worthwhile in the end.”

Those who are most familiar with cheerleading know that the atmosphere during a game day is incomparable to that of a competition. According to Carlee, both events have their own appeal, so that is what makes them so special. Carlee describes that, “I personally love them both just as much. Game Day cheer is very relaxing and fun. Competition cheer is very high energy and stress-inducing but so much fun at the same time. [The competition team] is very rewarding to be a part of. Every time a new skill is learned or a routine is performed well at a competition, it makes us feel so proud of ourselves and our friends on the team.”

The team agrees that both game day and competitions are just as rewarding because they feel as though they serve different purposes. For game days, the team’s focus is mostly on supporting the student section and football players, while they are much more hyper-fixated on supporting each other on competition days. But most importantly, it is clear that their support system is the secret to their victory even during the pandemic and is proof of their perseverance on and off the mat.

LHP Cheer concluded their season by competing at the Florida State Championships in Gainesville on February 2, and earned sixth place out of 15 squads. Only the top five teams advanced. LHPS missed advancing by 0.5, but earned the highest score of the season. (Photo courtesy of Mia Castro, grade 12.)
Juliette Benoist, grade 12, knows first-hand that success comes with countless moments of failure. Even in a sport like cheerleading, which often times demands “perfection” from its athletes, accidents are prone to happen especially when factoring in the anxiety that each member experiences during a competition. “You won’t learn anything if you always do the minimum. If you mess up or drop a stunt, it doesn’t matter. Just keep smiling and do what you practiced,” Juliette advises.