Behind all of the smiles at the 22nd Annual Manatee County Fair High School Cheerleading Competition there were fierce attitudes and hours of blood, sweat and tears poured into routines.
After nearly two hours of tough competition, Lakewood Ranch High School took home both first place spots for junior varsity and varsity. A half-point difference separated Lakewood Ranch and the second-place winners in varsity, Manatee High School, who also took second in junior varsity.
“It’s nice to bounce back and get the ‘W’ for senior year,” said Kylie Burch, who cheered at Lakewood Ranch for all four of her high school years with her friend and fellow cheerleader Tara Robbins.
“We have been six years without winning and it’s my senior year, so it’s nice,” Robbins said.
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Braden River High School and Bayshore High School also competed. While Palmetto High School cheerleaders could be seen in the stands, they didn’t perform in this year’s fair competition.
Each squad took turns performing a set to music on the red mat inside the fair's Mosaic Arena. Between choreographed dance and stunt routines, the cheerleaders encouraged the crowd to yell for their schools. The competition was sponsored by Harbor Community Bank, which presented each team with a check to use toward future competitions.
More than $3,500 went into sponsoring this year’s event, with most of the money going home with the high school cheerleading teams. The teams will use the money toward future competitions or going to cheerleading camp. Ina Baden, a volunteer with the Manatee County Fair Board, has helped coordinate the competition since it started. She paid three judges, all of who were unfamiliar with the teams, $100 each to determine Monday night’s winner.
“I think it’s important to have out-of-town judges,” Baden said.
At the end, parents crowded around the winning teams for photos. Kathleen Cucci was happy to see her daughter Anna’s hard work pay off.
“The Lakewood Ranch team has worked very hard this year and they definitely earned the spot,” Cucci said. “It’s a great group of girls and they have wonderful coaches.”