To many, cheerleaders seem like simple motivators, capturing the crowd's attention and cheering on school athletes in various sports.
Many do not know the intensity of high school cheerleading competition.
Cheerleading is the longest-running sports activity at Braden River High School, lasting nearly 10 months divided between football, basketball and competitions.
"We cheer all year, going from football in the fall to basketball and competition during the winter. Tryouts are in April, so there is little down time," Capt. Kayla McNulty said.
This year, with new varsity coach Erin Buchanan, the team increased in size, moving up an entire division. This increase in the number of cheerleaders led the team to compete in the same division as rival high schools Manatee and Lakewood Ranch.
"I chose to take an extra-large team this year because I had the talent to do so. In the past our squads have been smaller due to the number of girls trying out and their ability level," Buchanan said.
The team started the season strong, earning third place and a bid to nationals at the Universal Cheerlead
ing Association Regionals.
"Even though we weren't able to travel to Orlando for nationals, the win was just as rewarding because the hard work we put into the routine paid off at the very first competition performance," said senior varsity member Regan Cruz.
Continuing their success, the Braden River Pirate Varsity Cheerleaders placed second at Cheerfest in Braden River's gymnasium in December.
It wasn't all smooth sailing. Three season-ending injuries caused the routine to be changed significantly, altering each aspect to fix necessary missing spots. An ankle sprain, hurt shoulder and a severe back injury caused the varsity team to come closer as a team even as it lost injured participants.
"Each time we faced an obstacle, we came together to fix the problem, and worked as a team to create solutions," senior varsity cheerleader Savannah Cummings said.
Tweets and pictures after each competition showed the team's closeness.
The Braden River student body also influenced the success of the team, members said. With constant support and motivation from peers, the team stayed positive and willing to work even harder to achieve success, they said.
"I support BRPVC because the girls work so hard and do so much for the school, and all of their hard work is shown in their competitions by placing well. I show my support by wishing them good luck and also by social media," junior Kendall McNab said.
in the National Cheerleading Association Regionals the team peaked by taking first place in its division, and being named grand champions.
"This competition was less stressful because the teams we were competing against weren't teams we were rivals with, which made the competition ... more about having fun and leaving it all on the mat," senior Gianna Traylor said.
BRPVC placed second at the county competition at the Manatee County Fair in January, and also took home second at Florida High School Athletic Associaton Regionals held at Freedom High School five days later.
"The success is due to the team's hard work, dedication and perseverence through hard times. It was amazing watching them come together as a team," Buchanan said.
The group finished off the season at the FHSAA State Championship by finishing No. 6 in the state in the Extra Large Varsity 1A Division.
"The team is my family. Our closeness really shows during competitions, because we work so well together. In my four years of cheering, the bond the team has this year has impacted me the most," senior Marcella Richardson said.