The State Champion Niceville Eagle Cheer Team returned to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport at 3:45 Sunday afternoon to cheers, hugs and more than one custom big head cutout.
The cheerleaders, decked out in Maroon Eagles Gear with a medal around each of their necks, hugged their friends and family members, smiled, and laughed.
The Eagles’ Cheer team are state champions for the fifth time in five years.
Avery Williams, a senior with the team said the win this year – and every year of her high school career meant a lot to her for two reasons – because of the amount of time she spends with the team, and the way earning the win tested the limits of their leadership skills.
“I think I’m going to remember the lessons that cheerleading has instilled in me,” Williams said, “Seniors on the team are the leaders – stepping into that leadership role, being an example for the younger kids – the lessons, the confidence. Sometimes you fall at competitions and learning to get back up and go back at it again.”
The 75 or so parents, friends and well-wishers collected their state champs and celebrated momentarily before getting their bags and going home.
One of those parents – Jen Owczarski – drove to see the event in Lakeland. She drove back with another parent Saturday night just so that she could welcome the team home to Niceville on Sunday afternoon.
“I think all Niceville sports are good about having their fanbase travel and follow them when it’s important. And that’s what we do as parents,” Owczarski said, “The girls deserve the support; they work really hard. They deserve this – and more.”
Melissa Magier, parent of NHS Cheerleader Kaymin Magier, says the State Championship streak is excellent – and so are the life lessons that have come with them. “The best moment is watching my daughter build self-confidence,” Magier said, “She’s actually going to be trying out for a D-I school for cheerleading, and I believe that without everything she has learned from the coaching staff, she would not have the confidence to do that.”
In the middle of the fray at the airport entrance, Coach Tonya Herndon holds her son and talks to parents and cheerleaders. “I’ve had great athletes for five years, but it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of long days, and a lot of travel,” Herndon said. She hopes the major lesson her cheerleaders take from the experience is – that hard work matters. “It’s not always fun – but it’s always worth it,” she added.
The Eagles Cheer Team has only a short rest in Niceville. On Tuesday, the team heads back to central Florida for the Nationals Competition at the Disney Wide World of Sports. The competition will begin on Friday, February 9th.