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McCracken cheerleaders win national title

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

Spirits were high as members of the McCracken County Mustangs coed cheerleading team bustled into the school cafeteria Monday afternoon.

The team of six boys and 24 girls was fresh off the bus from a first place win at the Universal Cheerleading Association's 2014 National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Fla., and celebrated the win with family members, school faculty and fellow students. 

The team was named national champion in the medium varsity coed division at the nationally televised competition at Disney World.

"I'm super excited. It's the best feeling,"17-year-old senior Eric White said. "Like, if you could bottle the feeling and sell it, you'd be a millionaire."

As the cheerleaders lined up to receive cake and soft drinks Monday, head coach Jennifer McKenzie expressed pride in the team.

"We've had some traditions at Reidland before, but this is the first time for our school and, you know, I thought the kids came together really well," McKenzie said.

Of the three high schools that came together to form McCracken County High School, only Reidland had a coed cheerleading team.

"After bringing all three county schools together, we've worked the hardest we can and we have the best coaching staff to do it with to be where we are now," White said.

White said he joined the cheerleading team at Reidland during his freshman year as kind of a joke, but soon became serious about cheering.

"I ended up hitting my first toss hands into a standing tuck," White recalled, "and I haven't really missed a practice since then."

Kaitlynn Overby, a 17-year-old junior, said this was her first experience in a national cheer competition, and characterized the experience as "amazing" and "indescribable."

Previously a student at Lone Oak, Overby had taken co-ed stunting classes at a gym.

"So when we consolidated, I knew that Reidland had a really good cheerleading team and I wanted to be a part of it," Overby said.

Olivia Binkley, a 17-year-old senior who previously cheered on the Reidland team, said when the schools consolidated she didn't want to give up cheering because she knew bringing the schools together would increase the number of talented cheerleaders on the team.

"We didn't have a big school at Reidland," Binkley said. "It was only like 400 kids, so I just couldn't imagine all the talent that we'd have with 1,900, so I was really excited."

Binkley said the team winning its first national competition during its first, and her last, year at the school meant a lot.

"At the beginning, I mean I didn't even know everyone's name... and I never thought I would be this close to people that I've only known a year, so it means a lot. They mean a lot to me," Binkley said.

The three cheerleaders said participating in the team has helped them through the consolidation into McCracken County High School. Overly and Binkley said the team came together as a family.

McKenzie coached the coed team at Reidland, which participated in the NHSCC 11 times.

"I was super excited that 16 of our kids had never been at a competition like this before," McKenzie said, "and the fact that they handled themselves like veterans was really nice, so I was super pleased with everything that they accomplished."

McKenzie said 430 high schools participated at the competition spread among various divisions, and from those the NHSCC named 14 national champion schools.

The teams participating in the final competition represented the top-placing half of teams that participated in the semi-finals. McKenzie said the McCracken team placed first in the semi-final competition for its division as well.

Of the eight teams that competed in the medium varsity coed division of the finals, four were from Kentucky.

McCracken's division started with 17 teams. Eight - four from Kentucky - advanced to finals.

McKenzie said that between competition practices and cheering for games, cheerleading is almost a year-round sport.

"On the plane ride home we were already preparing for next year," she added.

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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