Rams, Eagles Excel in Orlando


The Ruckel Rams Cheer squad is the back-to-back national title champs for the Game Day category after their trip to Orlando just a few weeks ago. 


After a wild couple of weeks, which saw the Niceville High School Team place second at nationals as well – I was able to catch up with Coach Herndon and ask her a couple of questions about the accomplishments the middle and high school teams earned in Orlando. 


Herndon has coached the Niceville and Ruckel teams for several years – leading them to state and national championships, including four in a row for the Niceville Eagles. 

[The interview has been edited slightly for clarity, and we had less-than-great cell reception for a couple of minutes.]

The Interview

Question 1: Could you explain how competitive cheer works? What is Game Day Cheer?

“The teams take two different routine styles to an event, they take what is known in the cheer world as a ‘traditional competition’ [routine] and then a ‘game day’ routine. We are back-to-back national champions for the game day routine [at Ruckel], which is really awesome. The game day routine is very much like what you would see in a football game, fight songs and band chants. We love that division, because football is big in our area and Ruckel pride runs deep with these girls. So, [game day] really comes naturally and easily to them. We were really excited to win [nationals] two years in a row.”

Question 2: What is the difference between Small Junior High (what Ruckel won) and Large Junior High in Competitive Cheer?

“High School divisions are split based on your school size. But, the middle school division is small and large junior high. So, Small [Ruckel’s Competition] is up to 16 athletes, and Ruckel Fielded 15 members for their team.”

A woman smiling
Coach Tanya Herndon leads both the Niceville High School and Ruckel Middle School cheerleading teams.

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Question 3: What does it feel like to win back-to-back titles?

“Last year was the first time Ruckel cheerleading ever won a national title. So that was obviously something that all year we were set on maintaining. So, we worked really, really hard on that routine. And they went in with a set goal that they wanted to win again. And they did! They’re really, really excited about it. So, that kind of sets the bar up again for next year. You know, it’s hard to win once – it’s even harder to win twice. So, I think it really has set the standard now for next year, the eighth graders will be the kids that were our sixth graders for our first win. So, they don’t really know what it’s like to not win that division. So I think that’ll really push them this coming year to carry that on.”

Question 4: What Schools come to the National Cheer Competition in Orlando?

“We get teams from the West Coast, from the Northeast, the Midwest, they are from all over.”

Question 5: What do you want people to know about these competitions?

“I think that people need to know that [cheer athletes] work just as hard year-round as any other well-known sport. They go to these competitions with thousands of teams, thousands of athletes from all over the country. 


You put your best out there and you hope that the judges think it’s better than everyone else’s. And so, coming from a small town like Niceville, you’re going up against teams from the big city with endless resources in terms of training and facilities and things like that. When you put the big cities against small towns and the small towns prevail, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Question 6: What else should people know about the cheering culture in Niceville?

“We are so grateful to the community for all of the support, because we rely heavily on sponsorships and fundraising. The community really came through for us this year in a big way. We had a lot of expenses covered by donations and sponsorships and people coming to our events.”

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