The cheerleaders celebrated their fourth national title win last weekend, when they took home first place honors and other accolades at the Contest of Champions National Cheerleading Competition in Orlando, Fla.
The team was rewarded for their many hours spent practicing leading up to the competition, said head coach Nina Anderson.
The girls, under the leadership of Anderson, and assistant coach, Nikki Luppino, earned first place honors and the Level 3 National Title. In addition to a three-foot trophy, the team received a championship banner to hang in the Fort Lee High School gym and individual Mickey Mouse Awards, Anderson said.
They were also awarded the Spirit and Sportsmanship Award, beating out all teams in all divisions in the competition. The award was a hand-drawn, autographed Mickey Mouse drawing in a Disney frame, Anderson said, adding that as an art teacher at , she was “ecstatic” to receive it.
"What a great finish to my career as coach,” said Anderson, who’s in her 25th and final year of coaching the Fort Lee cheerleaders. “The team has made me so proud; especially being awarded the Spirit and Sportsmanship Award. They showed that they have character as well as athletic ability. The trip to Disney was a magical ending to my run as coach for Fort Lee."
The cheerleading squad earned a bid to compete in the competition at last year's Eastern Cheerleading Association national competition in Williamsburg, Va.
Cheerleaders representing several states across the country, including Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and even Alaska, vied for the top spot at the ESPN arena. Fort Lee competed on Sunday afternoon in the Level 3 Finals Division against seven other teams from various parts of the country.
“The team performed an almost flawless routine as the crowd cheered on their every move,” Anderson said, adding that when she returned to meet the girls backstage after their performance, she “cried tears of joy.”
"It was their best performance of the year," Anderson said. "I could not have asked for a better routine. The spacing was impeccable. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and they hit every stunt with ease. The crowd went wild over their dance segment. It was just awesome."
Teams competing in the competition stayed at the Disney All Star Sports Resort, where they practiced on the grounds and “splashed in the pool,” according to Anderson.
The fun-filled weekend also included visits to Disney's Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot Center, Magic Kingdom, and, of course, the competition at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, Anderson said.
Sophomore Melanie Blitz called her mother in Fort Lee to tell her how excited the team was immediately after they performed. When her mom asked how they placed, Melanie said, "We don't know yet. We don't even care where we finish because we did the best we could, and we're so proud of ourselves."
Fort Lee High School cheerleading team members include senior captains Alyssa Bonardi, Michelle Dean and Michelle Pepe; junior captain Hailey Klein; seniors Judy Ahn, Victoria Chang, Donna Hong, Erika Morishita, Jelena Sutovic and Milica Sutovic; juniors Jessie Cohen, Kayla Cruz, Vicky Estrella, Debora No, Yoo Jin Park and Maria Vega; sophomores Melanie Blitz, Ulyana Kolobkova and Callie Weinstein; and freshman Charlotte Kanter.