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North Pop Warner cheer earns top awards at Nationals

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jan 6, 2021

The North Fort Myers Pop Warner Junior Pee-Wee cheer squad and coaches celebrate. PROVIDED


The North Fort Myers Pop Warner cheer program ended its year on top, placing two teams in the top three nationally at the national championships in Orlando on Dec. 6.

The Junior Pee-Wee squad placed second in the nation, while the varsity squad took third.

“In between competitions we increased the difficulty a bit. We lost some athletes from one competition to the next, so we changed our routine a couple times during the season,” said Junior Pee-Wee head coach Carrie Hardwick. “We kept pushing our girls to their best potential.”

Cheer is a different sport than football. In cheer, their season comes in the meets, meaning their whole season could be over with one bad two-minute routine, unlike football where you can come back next week.

This puts huge pressure on the girls to perform at their best, knowing one mistake could be their last.

“We put our whole season on the line in 2:30. It makes us or breaks us so it puts more nerves into the athletes,” Hardwick said. “A football team can fumble and come back. But if one of our girls fumble, our season is over.”

Due to the pandemic, changes were put in place at both the local and competitive level.

When it appeared at first that there might not be a season, the teams put their faith in the organization to guide everyone. Many safety precautions were put in place and they made sure the athletes were healthy enough to be on the field.

Any sick athletes were required to take a COVID test before returning, including three from the Junior Pee-Wee cheer squad, all negative.

At nationals, it was a different feel with COVID. The teams couldn’t watch the other teams and so know how the other team did. There wasn’t an arena full of people screaming and cheering you on. North was able to put it together, however.

“The lighting made a difference because the dark lighting meant they couldn’t see what was going on. Their parents being loud is what got them through that one,” Hardwick said.

The varsity squad, which also reached nationals last year, finished third. After finishing as a runner-up in locals, they won regionals before reaching the podium.

The junior varsity squad was third in locals and third at regionals, but didn’t score high enough to advance to nationals.