‘We’re going to Disney World!’ Middlesboro cheerleaders headed to national competition in Orlando

Published 10:13 am Friday, February 3, 2023



In a little more than a week, the Middlesboro High School cheerleaders will compete at the UCA High School National Championship at Walt Disney World in Florida.

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This year marks the fourth year Middlesboro has qualified for the UCA championship, scheduled for Feb. 10-12 in Orlando. The team placed ninth in Orlando a year ago.

“We go to a summer camp in July that’s hosted by UCA, which is the host of the national competition,” said Middlesboro coach Carlena Carter. “You have to attend their camp and be credentialed to attend nationals, and that’s just the first step.”

The cheerleaders had a choreographer come in and help them work on a routine, which was then performed in the UCA Bluegrass Regional in November. To be invited to nationals, each team has to earn a bid by earning a certain score, and the Middlesboro cheerleaders won in their division. This was the cheerleaders second year in a row winning in that division. The cheerleaders train by practicing four days a week, as well as their performances at games.

“We do showcases every Sunday in the month of January where we perform. We’re not judged, and we did a couple other competitions in Louisville, just to get the girls in front of a crowd and give the experience and won both of those competitions,” said Carter. “So we’re excited and hopeful for what’s going to happen at Nationals.”

Middlesboro earned the top scores in the regional tournament, finishing with a score of 93.8.

Travel, including transportation to Orlando, lodging and food is expensive, and the team works hard to raise the resources necessary to make the trip.

“Fundraise, fundraise, fundraise,” said Kiara Brooks, a senior on the Middlesboro squad.

The fundraising season is a long one for the team.

“It starts really early in the year. Around May it really begins right when you make the team, we sold everything,” said Middlesboro senior Ava Lambert. “T-Shirts, Texas Roadhouse rolls, cookies, donuts.”

Juggling school work, cheer, and for some team members, a part-time job or a second sport, teaches the girls a valuable lesson in time management and responsibility, according to Carter. With just a few months off through the year, the girls juggle a busy schedule from May to February. Brooks runs on the track team after cheer practices, and Lambert has a part-time job.

“They work really good with my schedule,” Lambert said.

The group has formed a close bond, since cheerleading takes a lot of teamwork, and the practice puts the girls together at least six days a week. Lambert and Brooks both agree that perhaps despite some of the girls’ differences, they are all close, and consider themselves a unit outside of performances.

“You start from nothing, and you go and you make this amazing routine together,” said Lambert. “It’s like you grow all together and you accomplish all that.”

Carter explained some of the care and training that goes into endurance and stamina training the cheerleaders have to go through. Explaining that stretching, continuously growing their muscles, and putting in the continuous care that comes with endurance training, one of the cheerleaders may end up with an injury. To avoid this, Carter works with the girls on a lot of preventative care.

“We make it look easy, and it is not easy. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that makes it look easy,” said Carter. “Just as other sports teams watch film, we watch film. I’m filming every [full out] that they do at practice, they’re watching it, they’re critiquing themselves, we’re talking about how to get better.”

The nationals competition itself is judged in a very specific way, and very different from other sports. For example, in other sports, there is a points system and a rule book that is fairly agreed upon, but at the nationals and with cheer it is based solely on a judges opinion of their performance. Each girl, on a team of 14, has to make an effort to look like one, in both their movements in their performance and their appearance.

“I think the perspective on cheer is just what people see at ballgames, and competitive cheer, as well as sideline cheer, requires them to have endurance and stamina, and we train for that too” said Carter. “In the summer, we spend time in the weight room, we went to Elevation Sports Performance and worked with a trainer there, and do these things throughout the year to keep our bodies trained and in the shape they have to be in, since it’s very rigorous and very hard on our bodies.”

The national competition is not just a stressful time for the cheerleaders, but acts as something that reminds their team of their love of cheer and their own bond to each other.

“There’s a lot of sports you do just to do it,” said Lambert. “But cheer is one of those things you have to have a passion for and actually have to have a love for it. All season, the amount of time and effort and money that you have to put into it, you can’t fake it. You have to actually love it.”

Lambert and Brooks have been in cheer since ages 3 and 4, respectively.

Carter has coached the majority of the current cheerleaders for a long time and first coached Lambert when the latter was just 6. Most of the rest of the team has been under her tutelage since they were 7 years old.

“I didn’t coach them in middle school, but I coached them in youth cheerleading, and then they’ve been here at the high school with me,” said Carter. “They’re a special group of kids to me because they’ve been a part of my life for so long.”

Only three teams will advance through to finals on the first day of competition. Those who don’t make must compete through the semifinal round the second day.

“We really spend all year working for a three-minute performance that you don’t get a do-over on,” said Carter.