Cape cheer squad heading to global competition
While it hasn’t been an easy road for the Cape Coral Youth Hurricanes cheer squad, that didn’t stop them from taking home a national title and being the first in the area to punch their ticket to global competition.
The group of 32 girls competing in Pop Warner Youth Varsity Cheer (ages 14-16) took first place at regionals and followed up with a National Championship in Level 3 Large this past December, posting the second-highest score of the day out of 127 teams across all levels and categories.
Now, they set their sights on the Youth Cheer & Dance Alliance Globals at the end of February in Atlantic City, NJ.
Head coach Beth Morrish and her staff have coached primarily the same group of girls since they were 5 years old and are in their ninth season together. Morrish, who has competed in the same uniforms as her cheerleaders, said this season was unlike any other with Hurricane Ian making its way through Southwest Florida. Their field was wrecked and, of course, everyone was dealing with situations at their own homes.
“This was a very sweet championship for us many, many ways,” Morrish said.
This season was already set to be challenging for the Hurricanes, as they made the jump from JV to Varsity and also the jump from Level 2 to Level 3. A rainy August and September saw their outdoor practice times cut, and then Ian hit.
“We lost a month,” Morrish said. “Our field was completely destroyed, as were many things in the community. When that happened, we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to continue our season.”
Morrish said what was most impressive about her girls was the resolve and the willingness to band together and help out the community.
“Their first thought once we were able to all connect when service came back and I made sure they were all all right, was ‘What can we do? We want to help the community,'” Morrish said.
They went out and participated in food drives, passed out supplies at a local church, and eventually, they were able to clean up their field.
“We all got out there and once the city cleared us, we wasted little time and made every minute completely worth it at practice to make up for lost time,” Morrish said.
The sport of cheerleading isn’t all pom poms and synchronized shouts — these girls put on full aerial and acrobatic stunts that take a high level of skill and athleticism. Practices includes lots of cardio and core strength workouts to build and maintain their condition. With field conditions less than ideal, extra money was raised to purchase cheer mats for the squad to be able to safely compete.
“There’s just been so many more hurdles and obstacles this year more than any other year, not even including the hurricane,” Morrish said.
Morrish said the way the girls continued to improve and get better despite difficult circumstances has been amazing to watch. A lesson from an old judge Morrish learned years back was that just because you’re successful and winning at a certain level, doesn’t mean you should move up.
“You should not be going up a level in skills unless you are perfecting your execution,” Morrish said. “I really pushed that to my girls. When you’re executing skills on the highest scoring range, that’s when it’s time.”
The team has always competed at Level 2, but Morrish challenged her group and they answered. They finished just shy of a National Championship last year by the slimmest of margins, but Morrish could see they were ready for a bigger challenge.
This year, they became the first-ever Level 3 cheer squad to take the field at Storm Football Complex.
“We had a huge weight on our shoulders to see if we could pull of these harder skills,” Morrish said. “These skills are now above our heads. They’re not braced, they’re more free-standing. We’re throwing backflips in the air. This is a very, very difficult skill level to measure on.”
Being the group’s first go on not just the Varsity level, but moving up a class in terms of skills (4 being the highest), the team showed they were more than capable of being successful.
“We wanted to really represent Cape Youth in the best way possible and prove we were ready,” Morrish said.
Another bump in the road came when competition season ramped up. The Hurricanes would usually compete in the Peace River Cheer Off for the first round, but that event was cancelled due to the venue, Hertz Arena, being used as a hurricane shelter.
“Thankfully they allowed us to advance to the regional division, but that local competition gets the jitters and the shakes out,” Morrish said. “That really hindered us. We walked into regionals completely blind. We didn’t know if we were giving them a routine to satisfy the judges.”
The Hurricanes showed zero signs of rust as they crushed it at the competition and advanced to nationals.
“It was eye-opening. It’s like they had performed this routine for years,” Morrish said.
Once at nationals, they not only would be taking on the best-of-the-best on a higher level, but would have to dethrone a three-time champ if they wanted to claim the top spot.
“We knew that was going to be one amongst the many big competitors we were going against. And we just focused on ourselves,” Morrish said. “The girls really wanted to have fun with this routine. They were able to perform it effortlessly and it was radiant. They put on a show and it was like you forgot you were watching a cheer performance because everyone was jumping and dancing. If you don’t know anything about cheerleading or have never been to a cheer competition, it would have definitely gained new fans. It was one of my proudest moments for sure.”
When all was said and done, the Hurricanes stormed the competition and hoisted a National Championship.
The cherry on top? They recorded the highest score in their session of 32 teams with a 92.87 — more than 10 points higher than the squad they were most worried about. After leaving the area and at the hotel, they found out they finished with the second overall score (.7 away from No. 1) of the day among 127 teams.
With that score came an automatic bid to the YCADA Globals.
“No one from the city of Cape Coral has attended Globals before,” Morrish said. “It’s just out of this world there’s a possibly I’m now taking these girls to Atlantic City in February to compete at globals. We were over the moon.”
The squad got a warm welcome at Storm Field upon their return, as members of the Cape Youth Football Association (CYFA) celebrated their historic achievement.
“We want to make sure our community knows these things are happening, it’s not all bad,” Morrish. “We want people to know these girls are working really hard for this next step. We feel we need to represent Cape Coral and all of the cheer and sports teams here.”
The trip does come with costs, especially for 32 girls and seven coaches. The Hurricanes are working to raise money to help offset travel costs to take the championship team to the YCADA Globals Competition and show the world what they have to offer as representatives of our Southwest Florida area. They have a goal of $30,000 and Morrish said they are roughly halfway there.
“We’re into uncharted territory now, but we’re out there every Monday and Wednesday working hard and practicing so we can hopefully get to Globals and prove what we’ve got.”
Morrish said she’ll be plugging home the fundamentals and making sure every movement and stunt is polished to perfection. She said she wants the team to get back to their roots.
“I want them to go into the competition and practices with the mindset that we can be better,” Morrish said. “We’re going to keep pushing.”
With the sport aspect to the side, Morrish said it’s heartwarming to see the bond these girls have created with one another and how important it was to them to be part of the rebuilding process and overall success of the community.
“These girls want each other to succeed,” Morrish said. “They want to see the community grow and get better. Seeing them out there shows me that this is more than cheer in the sport. After the storm, they’re serving the community with smiles on their faces, no matter what was going on with them at home. They want to make sure their neighbor was OK. These are things they’ll be able to take with them for the rest of their lives.”
For those interested in supporting the team, donations will be tax deductible. Documents or receipts needed for tax returns can be made available upon request. Check can be made payable to CYFA. A monetary donation of $500 or more, will allow for placement of your company or family name on the back of the Commemorative Travel Team Shirts.
To make a donation, contact Morrish via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj