Fairs & Festivals

Manatee High cheerleaders repeat as county fair champs

PALMETTO -- Nothing was going to stop the Manatee High School cheerleaders Monday.

Not the damp.

Not the cold.

Not even a tornado watch.

The Hurricanes were on a mission at the Manatee County Fair’s 16th annual cheerleading competition at the Mosaic Arena.

“I told them I want to go back-to-back,” said coach Kelli Althof. “No one has done it since Lakewood Ranch.”

Coach Melissa Koehlinger’s LRHS squad were repeat champions in 2008 and 2009.

Manatee won in 2010.

Would the Canes repeat?

They got their answer in dramatic fashion.

After competition chairwoman Ina Baden announced fifth place (Palmetto), fourth (Bayshore) and third (Braden River), that left Lakewood Ranch and Manatee.

So when Baden declared with a flourish, “Second place goes to ... Lakewood Ranch,” the delirious Hurricanes squad went jumping for joy.

They also won a $700 check, while LRHS got $500, Braden River $400, Bayshore $300 and Palmetto $200. Southeast did not compete.

The trophy meant more than money to Manatee, which also won in 2007.

“Though it’s only one of our many competitions, it means a lot because it’s in our county and it’s for bragging rights, your reputation,” said Brianne McWhirter, a captain along with Danielle Dunbar and Kirstin Weiskopf. “We knew going in it’s usually cold and the rain made our shoes slippery. It was a factor, but we had to put it out of our mind.”

Said Weiskopf: “We worked hard for this. We were nervous about the weather, but it turned out well.”

Which is what Althof expected from her young squad of 28 girls, which has only nine seniors.

“It was difficult because the level of cheerleading we’re demonstrating with Braden River and Lakewood Ranch is definitely high,” the coach said. “I know we had some drops, what with the weather and the mats a little slippery, but everyone dropped a little.

“We wanted it this year. It’s a special group, a rebuilding year, but they’ve done amazing things.”

The LRHS coach, whose squad also won county in 2004 and 2006, had to agree on this night.

“Kelli and her team are awesome, a formidable opponent, and they hit their routine better than we did,” Koehlinger said. “We’re both super talented teams and we’re looking forward to competing against them at the FHSAA (regionals) this Saturday -- and we’re going to beat them.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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