BRADENTON -- Win a state championship, get a state championship ring.
Or so Manatee High's cheerleading team thought.
The Hurricanes won the Class 2A state title last February in Kissimmee, but because of budget cuts, the girls weren't in line to receive any commemorative jewelry.
They tried fundraisers. They tried soliciting donations. They tried everything to ensure all 30 members of the team would get rings.
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None of it worked.
"We do so many fundraisers, but they go toward offsetting other costs, like paying for our travel for competitions," said Lisa Bristow, whose daughter, Cara, is a cheerleader. "We couldn't really funnel it into rings. And we were going to ask the parents to pay for it, but the problem there is some parents could afford it, and others couldn't ... I just wasn't willing to give up."
Thanks to Mike Nobles, they didn't have to. Nobles, who owns M&L Cabinets in Bradenton with his wife, Linda, donated $6,000 to the Hurricanes' cause. Each ring costs more than $200, Bristow said, so Nobles' donation
covered most of the expense, and Manatee's booster program paid for the rest.
Now the team will finally receive the championship rings during today's cheerfest at Braden River. The event begins at noon.
"We are so excited," said Lauren Stewart, a senior captain on last year's team and now a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast. "We were really disappointed when he heard we weren't getting them, because it was something we were looking forward to. It feels good."
Stewart said most of the 17 seniors from last year's championship squad are reuniting for the ring ceremony.
"It was incomplete," she said. "We always felt like there was something missing. Now that we're getting the rings, we feel like everything is all wrapped up."
"Kids at that age, if you give them some encouragement, it helps them to become better people later on," said Nobles, who has lived in Bradenton for 20 years and routinely buys a full-page ad in Manatee's football program. "Most people are trying to achieve some kind of goal. And with those rings, you can say, 'I worked hard, I achieved.' "
Nobles became aware of the team's plight through Bristow, who works as Nobles' accountant.
"She explained to me what happened," he said. "And I said, 'If I can help make that better, I'll see what I can do.' "
Prior to Nobles' donation, the girls were awarded embroidered blankets during their banquet.
"But they always had it in the back of their mind that if you win a state championship," Bristow said, "you get a state championship ring."
The team hoped to receive their rings during a Manatee football game. But after the Hurricanes bowed out in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs, the cheerleaders approached the coaches at Braden River and asked if they could do the ceremony during Saturday's event.
"There are going to be a lot of people there, a big cheer family from the area and a lot of our fans," Bristow said. Braden River's coaches "could have easily said, 'No, this is our competition.' But they were very gracious and said, 'Yeah, sure. That's fine.' "
Thanks to Nobles, Manatee's latest state championship team will get the rings to go with the achievement.
"I am a firm believer in what you put into life, you get back out of it. And not just in business, but in life," Nobles said. "If you can change a few things in someone's life, it will make it better for everybody. And maybe these girls will help someone else later in life.
"I didn't do it for recognition -- I did it because I thought it was right."
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057.