Lake Nona Youth Sports, home to the Jr. Lions, is the oldest youth sports program of its type in the Lake Nona community. Our football and cheer programs are affiliated with Pop Warner, the largest youth sports organization in the world. The 2020 season was my first year serving as cheer director after having been with the Jr. Lions for the last seven years as team parent and coach, and it has been an honor to lead my team of coaches and athletes to a remarkably successful season.
Cheer season usually starts Aug. 1, but due to COVID-19, our season was postponed until Aug. 29. For the first 20 hours of practice, we condition, learn fundamentals, sideline cheers, and get to know one another. All squads practice three times a week at Heroes Community Park. Each squad cheers on their associated football teams every Saturday during the regular season that extends through October as well as the playoff games in November. In September, we start working on our competition routine, which is a choreographed, two-and-a-half-minute routine consisting of dance, stunts, tumbling, and cheer. New to the program this year is dance. Dance teams learn a choreographed routine in Pom, Hip-Hop, or Theme, and athletes perform these routines at Pop Warner competitions in November and December. There are three competition events each season: local, regional, and national.
After sideline season is complete in late October, the first competition to attend is the local Mid Florida event. Teams that place first or second at this event will move on to the Southeast Regional Championship. Teams that place first or second at Regionals will then move on to Nationals. This season, Mid Florida and Regionals took place at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. Nationals took place at the Orange County Convention Center. Pop Warner also organizes a celebration party for all teams in attendance at Nationals each year. This year, the party was at Universal Studios.
Losing an entire month of practice due to COVID-19, all of our cheer and dance teams didn’t have much time to learn the routines, but all four cheer squads worked together and pulled it off! Our Tiny Mite squad was led by head coach Lindsay Broadhurst. Coach Lindsay and her family are new to the Jr. Lions family. She and her cheer staff did a great job coaching their team this season. The little cheerleaders, ages 5 and 6, had so much fun on the sidelines as well as performing as an exhibition team at Mid Florida and Regionals.
I served as head coach of the Jr. PeeWee cheer squad, ages 9-11. The largest squad in the program – at 18 girls – also had a great season! The team placed second at Mid Florida and seventh out of 17 at Regionals. While this team did not get to move on to Nationals, the girls are ready to work hard and are determined to get there next season.
Our Varsity squad, ages 12-14, was led by head coach Jessica Sparks, who is also new to the Jr. Lions family. She jumped right in and led her small team of seven girls to victory at Mid Florida with a first-place title! It is extremely difficult to choreograph a cheer routine with only seven girls, but the Varsity coaching staff came up with a great routine that wowed the judges! While they did not move on to Nationals, these athletes had an amazing performance and are ready to do it all again next season!
Last but certainly not least, our Mitey Mite squad, ages 7-8, was led by head coach Taylor Estevez. Coach Taylor went above and beyond, taking on double duty as her team was rostered as both a cheer and dance team. Her team of 14 competed in two routines, one for cheer and one for dance. Having a background in dance, Taylor’s love for the art really came through as she created a winning Pom routine for her team. Coach Taylor, her cheer staff, and all her athletes worked so hard this season – and it paid off! The Mitey Mite team took first place for their Pom dance routine at Mid Florida, took first place at Regionals, and competed Dec. 7 at Nationals to take home a first-place National Championship trophy, along with an invite to compete on Feb. 26-28 at the YCADA Globals in Atlantic City, New Jersey!
As cheer director of Lake Nona Youth Sports, I want to congratulate all the Lake Nona Jr. Lions cheer and dance teams on your success this season! I couldn’t be prouder! Our success would not be possible without the amazing group of volunteers we have to help mentor our athletes. Board members, coaches, team parents, and our Jr. coaches from Lake Nona High School have such a positive impact on all our athletes. Their love of cheer and dance really shines through, and it shows through the success of our teams. Thank you all so much for all you do! Go, LIONS!
Photos Courtesy of Lake Nona Youth Sports