When Pasco-Hernando State College won a state championship last month, there was a lot of cheering.
Not just from fans or family members.
The cheering actually came from the team itself.
Because that’s exactly how they won the title – from cheering.
The PHSC cheer team won the College Co-Ed Level Six division state title at The American Cheer & Dance Championships for Florida, held Feb. 7 at the Florida State Fair. Their routine, which lasted 2 minutes and 30 seconds, earned a score of 92.30 out of 100, which earned the team first place in their division.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Sophia Haddad, the team’s head coach.
Haddad is in her first year leading the team, but she’s no stranger to PHSC cheerleading. She helped start the cheer team as a student back in 2009, and was part of the cheerleading squad that also won a state title a few years ago.
At just 23 years old, Haddad has athletes on the team who are older than her.
She considers it an advantage, to be close in age to the cheerleaders on her squad.
It helps her connect with the team, and she’s not afraid to get on the mat herself and demonstrate what to do, if it will help get her message across.
“I can see it through their eyes,” Haddad said. “I think I can relate a little bit more to them.”
As a former state champion, she also can relate to their success.
Haddad writes the team’s routines, and said she’s able to highlight their strengths in a way that judges will notice.
Those strengths include moves like stunting and pyramids, which require not just physical ability and skill, but a level of trust and teamwork that’s hard to achieve.
The team’s success stems not only from the members’ talent.
A good attitude, Haddad said, is essential to creating a successful routine and a championship squad.
“You can come in and have good skill, but if you’re not a team player and you don’t have the right attitude, then you’re not anything to the team. You’re not helping them in any way. If anything, you bring them down.”
Right now nobody is bringing down the Conquistadors, who will travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the national championships, which begin March 20.
The team will compete as a group and also in a separate stunting category.
Haddad has a good feeling about how they’ll perform on the national stage.
Karlee Roach, a PHSC sophomore who attended Land O’ Lakes High School, shares Haddad’s optimism about the team’s prospects.
Roach cheered for her school as a Gator, but said things become a little more intense at the college level when a state title is on the line.
“The pressure of it, representing our school, was very, very different than high school,” Roach said.
Winning the title also brought special satisfaction for her.
In high school, she felt like the squad during her senior year had the talent to win the state championship, but it didn’t finish in the top three.
She still believes the scoring was questionable and did not represent what the team achieved on the mat.
Winning at PHSC has provided some validation for Roach and her squad.
“That is why I wanted to join the cheerleading team here, because I wanted to prove that I am not fourth. I am first. And it’s not just me. It’s the team. We are,” Roach said.
Roach takes her cheerleading seriously, and she proves it outside of practice and competitions. She’s in the gym three or four times a week, doing weight training or cardio to stay at her best. Everybody on the team puts in their time to perform at a championship level, she said.
But for all that work, many people still think of the cheerleaders as the people on the side of a game, or simply dancing around. They don’t see the practice time, the injuries, the training and the teamwork that goes into building a winning program.
“A lot of work goes into it, and nobody realizes how much,” Roach said.
At PHSC, that’s changing.
Roach has been stopped by faculty and school administrators and congratulated for the team’s success. Over time, people are recognizing that the team’s hard work is paying off, and it feels nice to be noticed for their accomplishments.
For Haddad, those accomplishments include being good students. As an academic advisor for the school, she knows the importance of making sure athletes put importance on their classes.
Cheerleading helps in those and other areas, by teaching team members the importance of working in groups and providing support, whether it’s at the base of a pyramid — helping get the best out of a teammate, or focusing on a common goal, like a state or perhaps a national title.
“I’m really lucky. I have a great team,” Haddad said. “They have great attitudes, they’re great students. The overall package. And that’s really what I look for. You can’t be a good cheerleader here if you’re not a good student. You have to have both.”
Published March 11, 2015