The West Hernando Cougars program has improved by leaps and bounds in football since Bob McFarland took over the program nine years ago. However, that improvement might be dwarfed by the success of the Cougar cheerleaders under Debbie McFarland. Last season, the success of the program could not be overlooked. All five divisions began placing at competitions they attended, whether it was a local or state event. "It's all about the little details," McFarland said. "A lot of coaches worry about stunts, but the little things like hand motions are just as important when it comes down to the final score."
McFarland, who oversees the entire cheerleading program, personally coached the Mighty Mite Division in 2007, and her squad won the Pasco Police Athletic League Cheer-Off crown, tying with Lutz. The team then beat Lutz for the division title at the Cheer Blast in Tampa.
This season, the skill level has reached new heights. McFarland has moved on along with most of her squad from the Mighty Mites up to Junior Varsity. Because of their past success, she scheduled her cheerleaders for four competitions this October and November. All five divisions placed in every event, but the accolades collected by the Junior Varsity were something no one could have expected.
For the first competition, the Cougars traveled to the Lakeland Civic Center for the Gulf Coast Classic. The competition included 87 teams from seven Florida counties, and even in that broad field, the Junior Varsity Cougars reigned supreme.
The squad was named Grand Champions, with the highest score at the event.
With that honor in hand, the Cougars were the obvious favorites for the PPAL Cheer-Off title again in 2008. They didn't disappoint. At River Ridge High in New Port Richey, West Hernando easily won its division and outscored the nearest squad by more than 40 points.
In an even larger competition, the Cougars picked up the Grand Champions crown at the Cheer Champion Express Florida Invitational at the USF SunDome in Tampa.
This event included 132 programs. No one, not even McFarland, could have predicted that the Cougars would come this far.
"I am shocked — really," McFarland said. "I would have never thought this was possible."
The cherry on the sundae came in the fourth and final competition for the Cougars in 2008. Competing in the Cheer Blast at the Tampa Bay Convention Center, the Junior Varsity won yet another Grand Champions title.
The difference between this victory and the others, however, was the reward. This win qualified West Hernando for the Final Destination Invitational in Las Vegas in April. This event is open by invitation only to the top teams in the country.
The entry fee is $110 per cheerleader, which would add up to $3,190 for the entire 29-member Cougar squad. That amount was paid for because of their Grand Champions status.
Now, the Cougars are fundraising. They still need to raise money for airfare, hotels, food, etc.
Jane Evans, who has been Team Mom for three years, has two boys in Cougar football and a daughter, Samantha, on the Junior Varsity squad.
"My boys will fundraise for my daughter," Evans said. "This is hard work for these girls, so everyone is behind them now."
The Cougars don't have the same benefits as some of the other programs they compete against. West Hernando doesn't hold tryouts, so every girl of age makes the squad.
They don't have indoor facilities, so they practice in the heat of summer and the chill of winter.
And the girls wouldn't have it any other way.
"They all want this so bad," McFarland said.
"Every girl wants to go the extra mile."
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