Written with contributions from Karen Fletcher, Tami Burke and Autumn Hazen:
For a cheerleading or dance squad, the difficult road to the national championship is quite similar to that of a football team’s.
The Murrieta Valley Pop Warner Lightninghawks Cheerleading team is a Jr. PeeWee PW-2 Medium team consisting of girls 8 to 12 years old who in order to move on in competition had to place among the top two in their division at the Palomar Conference Championship in October and at the Wescon Region Championship in November.
Performing a 2-minute, 30-second routine, the team of 18 girls worked hard and earned a spot in the 2013 Pop Warner Super Bowl and National Cheer Championship to be held Dec. 8-9 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla.
The team will practice at the complex and then compete against 15 other cheer squads from 64 leagues coming from 24 states. The team gets to stay at Disney World and visit the parks there.
According to a news release, participants in the Pop Warner program are unique as opposed to those of other programs. While they are taught about the values of competition, they are also maintaining their grades at a satisfactory level in order to attain the ultimate prize of being named a Pop Warner National Champion. The efforts and accomplishments that all participants put forward are saluted.
The Murrieta Lightninghawks Jr.PeeWee PW-2 Medium team consists of: Skylar Brown, Emily Burke, Kasey Carr, Randilyn Fletcher, Raelyn Fletcher, Sophia Flute, Kristy Gahan, Heavyn Gamble, Taylor Hazen, Kaylea Helton, Victoria Howard, Halle Just, Kaleah Knox, Faith Messick, Jessica Remm, Anessa Willbanks, Paris Woods and Isabella Yankauskas.
The coaches are: Coach Desiree Yankauskas and assistant coaches Irene Sweetland and Mercediz Howard.
Funding had to be raised quickly in order for the team to travel to Florida. On Gofundme.com, the following was written about Coach Yankauskas and her desire to see the team succeed:
“Coach Desiree first started coaching the girls 2 years ago. She had no idea how competitive cheer had become over the years and now only being her 2nd year coaching, it is such a great achievement to place 2nd in the entire West, and such an amazing opportunity to represent in Orlando, Florida for Nationals.
“Last year, it broke her heart when she saw their faces when they lost. The routine they performed was flawless but placed LAST based on difficulty level. Desiree was devastated for not creating a more difficult routine and since last season Des and her Asst. Coaches have been creating a routine to give these girls the win they deserve. Along with their coaches, these girls have put a lot of heart, sweat, and tears into this routine. They have worked so hard for this, since August, practicing 4 days a week plus games on Saturdays.
“With all their hard work and heart they have for cheerleading, the Lightning Hawks are going to do an awesome job at Nationals in Florida.”