By Eunice Chong

The coaches were in tears before the final notes of the routine music played inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida. Cheerleaders from Sir Oliver Mowat C.I. brought home bronze medals following a flawless performance at the 2018 World School Cheerleading Championships in February.

“We were just so proud of them. We couldn’t be happier that the girls earned a bronze medal, but also had the experience of a lifetime,” said coach Jennifer Stewart.

The experience was made more gratifying by the fact that as recently as three months ago, the team wasn’t even sure that they would be allowed to compete in the U.S. under TDSB travel restrictions.

When training commenced in the fall, the coaches tried to temper expectations of winning a medal over the more experienced Americans. Coach Jodi Klinck said, “we knew we would have some tough competition at Worlds as we were in the largest division [Super Varsity Non-Tumbling] and we were going up against several U.S. teams,” that have the advantage of training on non-spring floors year-round. In Canada, all cheerleading competitions take place on spring floors, which make tumbling easier. The squad had to adapt its Worlds routine to familiarize itself with and account for the “dead” floors.

The team, which also trains under community coach Brooke Zarudny, arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort on February 8. It was a whirlwind of a weekend in which they practised at the centre gym, performed a routine for feedback from a panel of judges, and observed the heady environment of the U.S. Nationals in Cheerleading (UCA), of which Worlds is a part. In between, they enjoyed their  accommodations at the Disney All-Star Music Resort and theme park passes, courtesy of their Partial Paid bid to the competition.

Competition day, three days later, brought out palpable nerves. The atmosphere in the warm-up area was intense, befitting one of the premier competitions in high school cheerleading. Each team had 10 minutes on the practice floor to run through their routine; all other warm-up had to be done in the hall while waiting to be marshalled.

“It’s so nerve-wracking waiting to get out on the floor and compete,” said team member Mackenzie Sparks. “Four months of training ultimately comes down to the two minutes and 30 seconds you have on the floor.”

Mowat was flawless. On the biggest stage of their lives, the cheerleaders hit a perfect routine. Everything was spot-on, from the stunts to the pyramid to the dance section. With no falls or bobbles on the day, they delivered a zero-deduction performance, a notable feat considering the strictness of the judging panel at Worlds. They even got the crowd engaged to the point of chanting along with the team.

“When we came off the floor, everyone was overwhelmed with emotions. Before even knowing our score, we knew that our run was exactly what we had been training for and all of a sudden, all these months of work were worth it,” said Mackenzie.

Ms. Klinck said, “Our goal was simply to perform the routine to the best of their ability. When they announced that we had won bronze everyone cheered and cried. It was more than we had dreamed of.”

Out of the nine teams in the division, Mowat finished in third place, behind winners Hanford High School and Mount Si High School, both from the States.

Senior Jade Gracey received the trophy at the behest of the coaches. “When I joined the team as a freshman, I never dreamed that a high school team would ever take me to an international competition of this calibre,” she said.

They celebrated at Disney World before flying home on Tuesday. Their work this season is far from over – the next step is qualifying for next year’s World Championships at Nationals in April.