With one local youth football team competing at this year’s Pop Warner Super Bowl at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, an area cheer squad also solidified its spot among the best in the nation.
The Roger Bacon Academy Vikings Pee Wee squad from Charter Day School in Leland earned the top prize in national competition— for the fourth time in a row and fifth overall.
The cheer program also won two first-place National Championships in other divisions, bringing the program total to seven first-place National Champion titles since 2011.
Broadcast on ESPN 3, the week-long Pop Warner national competition saw more than 420 teams from across the nation compete in their respective divisions.
This National Champion squad also received the Spirit of Sport Award—the competition’s “Miss Congeniality” equivalent—from a pool of 20 contenders. The squad is comprised of students from Charter Day School ages 9-12.
Another Charter Day School squad competing in a different division—the competition’s most advanced— achieved an impressive second-place finish, while setting a new highest score record for the RBA Viking cheer program. A squad with students from both Charter Day School and their Whiteville sister-school, Columbus Charter School, achieved a fifth-place national title.
The common denominator for these programs’ mutual success is its head coach, Jean Lafave. Lafave started the program at the Leland campus in 2005 and successfully replicated it at the Whiteville campus in 2014.
An unpaid volunteer, Lafave leads both programs with the support of volunteer assistant coaches—one of whom includes her daughter, Abby, an alumna of a former National Champion squad.
“Unlike other teams, we have never had a gym,” said Lafave. “We practice in the heat, the cold, and the rain. Our athletes do not come from all-star gyms and our coaches have no previous coaching experience as they are simply moms and dads who want to spend extra time with their daughters.
“Many of our families fund raise all season to make it to this competition. We write our own choreography—my daughter Abby and I—at the dinner table or during family time. Our athletes’ hard work and dedication shines through despite all of these circumstances.”
At Charter Day School, the Pop Warner organization has awarded over $12,000 in scholarships to student athletes since 2005.