BRADENTON -- Three Manatee County cheerleading teams are still practicing -- and fundraising -- for the 2014 Pop Warner National Cheer and Dance Championships.
Three Manatee Wildcat cheerleading teams, made up of 92 girls between the ages of 8 and 14, performed well enough to reach the final stage of the competition Dec. 6-13 in Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
It's the third year in a row the junior midget team has qualified and the second straight year for the junior peewee and the midget teams
to qualify for lower-level competitions.
It will cost an estimated $9,000 to send the three teams to the competition, said team mom Melissa Cruz, whose 11-year-old daughter, Alexandria Cruz, is competing.
"This is a great opportunity for them," she said.
As of Thursday night, the team still hadn't raised enough money to go, Cruz said.
With only one week between the end of the regional competition before the start of the national competition, raising money can be a scramble, said Nicole Stephens, head coach of the junior midget team. The teams have a page set up online and are trying to arrange local business sponsors.
Cheerleaders Aaliyah Rudrud, Jada Russell and Cruz said they are excited and nervous for the competition. Because the team has gone multiple years in a row and performed well, there's a certain expectation each year for the team, they said.
"You have a reputation and you have to keep it up," said Russell, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Lee Middle School.
"Everyone knows you," said Rudrud, also a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Lee.
Tight discipline and a strict schedule keep the team in the top level of competition each year, said Stephens.
Pop Warner cheerleading teams don't have tryouts and don't cut students, Stephens had 17 new girls on her team as of Aug. 1.
"We have a very structured schedule," Stephens said.
For information about the team or how to donate, visit Manatee Wildcats Youth Football and Cheer page on Facebook.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.