LELAND — One charter school system in the area continues to produce its fair share of talent when it comes to competing at the highest level. Earlier this month, The Roger Bacon Academy Pop Warner program sent five cheerleading squads to national competition in Orlando, Florida, and the Vikings brought home two titles.
With five squads competing in different divisions, the program earned two first place national titles and one runner-up award. Broadcast on ESPN 3, the national competition included approximately 330 squads from across the country.
These champion squads are comprised of K-8 students from public charter schools managed by Leland-based company, The Roger Bacon Academy Inc. (RBA). Because charter schools do not receive funding for athletic programs, the company sponsors cheerleading and football teams for its client schools, which include Charter Day School in Leland, South Brunswick Charter School in Southport, Columbus Charter School in Whiteville and Douglass Academy in Wilmington. Nearly 200 students participate in the RBA cheerleading program.
The common denominator for the program’s success is Head Coach, Jean Lafave. Lafave started the program at Charter Day School in 2005 and expanded the program in 2014 to include Columbus Charter School students. In 2016, Lafave took the program to South Brunswick Charter School students, who earned a first place national championship in their first year of competition.
Since 2011, Lafave’s squads have earned nine first-place national championships and numerous top-five national titles.
“Unlike other teams, we have never had a gym,” said Lafave. “Our 165 girls 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. They are simply moms and dads who want to spend extra time with their daughters. Many of our families fundraise 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.”
Individually, Lafave was named Pop Warner’s 2016 Volunteer of the Year for the Mid-South Region. 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.
“During my eight years as an RBA Viking Cheerleader at Charter Day School, not only did I meet lots of friends and participate in a sport that I love, I earned over $4,500 in scholastic scholarships,” Assistant Coach, Abby Lafave added.
An overview of each squad’s achievements is included below:
Varsity, Level 4 – Charter Day School and Columbus Charter School
first place National Champion, Highest Jump Score
Jr. Pee Wee, Level 4 – Charter Day School, Columbus Charter School, South Brunswick Charter; first place National Champion, first Runner-up in first-ever Skill Games
Pee Wee, Level 4 – Charter Day School; second place National Title
Jr. Varsity – Columbus Charter School; fifth place National Title, National Spirit of Sport Award- Level 3
Jr. Pee Wee –Charter Day School and Columbus Charter School; fourth place National Title, National Spirit of Sport Award- Level 1