As at most other competitions, Coral Springs Chargers’ Youth Division cheerleading coach Joeylee Persten was understandably nervous.
This time, she was even more so as she attempted to sooth the nerves among her 23-member squad of 9- and 10-year-olds competing in the American Youth Football League Cheerleading competition at the BankAtlantic Center on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables.
The event, which featured 60 cheerleading teams from Miramar to Delray Beach, was a showcase for the Coral Springs squads as they swept through the Pee Wees, Youth, Youth Prep, Junior Prep, Juniors Large and the Seniors Large divisions.
The Chargers’ team overcame adversity, having to learn an entirely new routine after a member left the squad. However, the girls responded with a flawless routine, winning the division with a perfect score, the first in the 35-year history of the Coral Springs program.
“These girls needed to learn a new routine in 10 days, and they still went out on the floor for a perfect routine and made cheer history,” beamed Persten, who has been with the Chargers’ program for five years. “These girls received perfect scores from all six judges (five panel judges and a safety judge).”
Persten is also proud of the girls in terms of their academic accomplishments. Throughout the season, 95 percent of the squad members maintained a straight-A average in school.
“These girls are the epitome of what it means to be a leader in their community. They are extremely dedicated and devoted, and most of all, they know what the definition of team really is,” Persten said. “The coaches are volunteers and create music and the routine.
“The girls went above and beyond anyone’s wildest dreams,” she said. “They blessed us with their hearts, their souls, their minds and their spirit. I believe they deserve to be recognized.”
The Coral Springs Tackle Football Club was founded more than 40 years ago, and the AYFLC program started in 1996. Coral Springs joined in 1999.
“There may have been some cheer squads in the past that earned a perfect score,” said Merry Gaeta, who has been involved in the program for more than 30 years and whose late husband was a coach.
Gaeta takes pride in thinking back on the days when her daughters cheered and her son played for the Chargers, and she continues to help the program as an adviser on the board of directors.
“Cheerleading competitions and scoring were so different then,” Gaeta said. “In my recollection, since joining AYFLC, no team had gotten perfect scores from all the judges.”
In the mid-to-late ’80s, there was no dancing or stunting in the competition. It has changed throughout the years.
The Youth team that made history includes Alyssa Irwin, Julianna Cimaglia, Rylie Feller, Rachel Zimmerman, Mikayla Whitney, Raquel Christie, Allie Albertson, Sydney Littman, Ashley Myers, Dakota Paone, Gianna Greco Sophia Persten, Josalynn Hentz, Skylar Duggan, Gabriella Reiss, Reilley Rothman, Faith Weiss, Isabella Flores, Isabel Gamez, Kylie Messmer, Casie Kazanjian, Briana Kwangwari, and Jada Lemy.
The team is under head coach Joeylee Persten, assistant coaches Maria Reiss and Megan Hall, and teen coaches Kylie Jordan, Kailee Feller and Alyssa Rispoli.