Alexa Burzee's high school cheerleading career just ended in tears. But a year after her Winter Park cheerleading team's toughest defeat last season, those tears came with a smile. The Wildcats had just won it all.
It was a relieving end to a long wait. That Saturday morning, Feb. 6, inside the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, the Wildcats had drawn a nerve-wracking spot on the final day of competition. They had to go first.
Leaping through intricately formed pyramids and dazzling the crowd with synchronized tumbling they'd spent a year perfecting, the girls held together with near flawless precision. Standing atop the final lift, her head 10 feet above the floor, Burzee had a feeling that she didn't dare talk about. Not after what happened in 2009 when her team had come so close.
That afternoon the Wildcats waited for hours as eight other teams tried to beat them.
"You feel like you think you won, but you never know," Burzee said.
A year ago Burzee was trapped in that same agonizing moment. On that cold March afternoon, her Winter Park cheerleading team thought they'd won the state championship. Then they found out they'd lost by only 14 points shy of the winner's 448.5.
"You get a feeling that you did everything you could," Burzee said. "Then it came crashing down. The whole team was crying."
Flash forward one year to the arena floor, and she's waiting again. But this time, as the team scores ticked off like a countdown, the Wildcats weren't on the list. Sixth, fifth, fourth, third then second.
"That's when we thought it had to be us," teammate Natalie Gidus said.
When the Wildcats' name was announced, the girls in orange and black erupted in jubilation.
"The whole team was crying," Burzee, 18, said. "We were just hugging each other and crying."
"I jumped on my friend," Gidus said. "We were all so happy."
Teammate Chelsea Farr was in her first year on the competitive varsity team, but said she couldn't help herself in the moment.
"People always told me that when you get really happy you can't control it," Farr, 16, said. "Every picture you see that I'm in I'm crying."
As the team walked through the halls that Monday with medals around their necks, classmates who'd been strangers suddenly said hello.
Gathered at the Winter Park City Commission chambers March 8, the lady Wildcats earned their official welcome back as the 2010 state competitive cheerleading champions, performing one final cheer for the home crowd.
"You can come back to City Commission meetings anytime you want," Mayor Ken Bradley said. "We're proud of you."
Most of the team will be returning for next year, possibly stronger than ever coming off their biggest win yet.
"This is virtually almost a brand new team," Coach Angela Ryan said. "To win a state championship is amazing."