NEW FRANKLIN  Six Manchester Middle School cheerleaders took top honors at the recent AmeriCheer International Cheerleading competition held at the Disney World in Orlando, Fla. 

The competition took place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney facility and squad members Kate Caster, Morgan Kunselman, Melanie Pederzolli, Olivia Paljich, Reese Sanford and Abby White represented Manchester, under the direction of coach Jamie Kaderly.

 "The girls really did fantastic," Kaderly said. "They worked very hard, practicing three time a week for two months to prepare for their competition. After we got home the squad received all sorts of recognition from the superintendent, principal, teachers and community members. The girls really deserved the recognition because of all the hard work they did." 

 The team’s journey began last summer, when they attended a three-day cheerleading camp at Hiram College. Despite competing against high school varsity squads, they took first place in three events: Fun Theme Days, Crowd Crazies and Exciting Nights, along with a third-place finish in the Home Dance category.

Team scores were compiled at the end of the camp and when all of the points were tallied, the Manchester squad was named the top team. That netted them an automatic bid to appear in the AmeriCheer International Cheerleading Competition at Disney World.

That was merely the first step in the process; from there, the team held a variety of fundraisers to pay for their trip. They did everything from 50-50 raffles at sporting events to dances and support from local businesses. All together, they were able to raise over $10,000 for their trip.

In the midst of their fundraising, the girls also practiced frequently, typically three times a week. They had to balance their extra practice time with their other school activities, but they were able to find time for it all and by the time March rolled around, they were ready to compete.

As a group, they flew with their coaches and supporters to Florida to compete against 80 teams from across the United States and even countries such as Chile and Ecuador.

On the first day of the competition, preliminary rounds took place. Teams were evaluated and scored for their performance with their cheer and dance routine. The criteria included a wide range of things, including degree of difficulty, spirit, motion, jumps, tumbling, dance and facial expression. Based on that score, the team went back over its routine and readied for the second day, when the final scoring took place. The final score for the Manchester team was 91.10, which was good enough to win in the Junior High Non-Mount Traditional Division.

 "I was really nervous before the competition," Caster said. "But once I got on stage my mind went blank and I just did my best. I was amazed that our little squad did so well and were division champs and beat out other bigger schools."

Teammates Olivia Paljich and Morgan Kunselman agreed, saying they were extremely nervous before the competition, but that when the time came to perform, they were ready. Both cited the strong support from the community as one of the best parts of the experience, although the chance to visit Disney World when they weren’t performing was also a highlight of the trip.

They were able to soak in all of the sights of the Magic Kingdom and still focus when it came tie to take the stage. All in all, it was a memorable ride for the team and it supporters, who were able to represent their school and community on a national level.