Last year’s Mid-Atlantic National Cheerleading and Dance Championships were a shining moment for the athletes of Toms River-based gym Spirit Factory, which finished second in the Senior Level 5 category to earn a spot in the national tournament in Orlando, Fla.
The bulk of last year’s nationals squad is at it again at this year’s event, which began Saturday at the Wildwoods Convention Center and concludes today.
As one of the closest gyms to the arena geographically, Spirit Factory is a de facto “home” team, which team captain Brooke Miranda said gives it an advantage.
“We always do better in Wildwood,” she said. “This is our town.”
Miranda was among more than 2,500 athletes across 156 individual teams and 30 different gyms attending the event this weekend. Counting family and friends, the event brings about 6,000 people to the region each year, which makes it a boon for local businesses.
In fact, this weekend’s tournament and another December cheer tournament are the convention center’s biggest events of the year, according to event manager Craig Lafferty.
“It’s a huge benefit,” he said. “The hotels are booked Friday and Saturday nights, all the restaurants are packed. Even, you go to the Wawa and they know. They see the Cheer Tech people.”
Ben Rose, marketing director for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said Thursday the event is a boon for the town during a traditionally slow week. He said it generates an average of about 1,500 room nights in local hotels and more than $150,000 in food and beverage revenue.
The event has proved as good a fit for its organizers as it has for local businesses. Event Director Karen Drew, of organizer Spirit Brands, said the open layout of the convention center makes it ideal for competition, and convention center staff have been accommodating for the 11 years they’ve held the event there.
It’s a good time for visitors as well, many of whom enjoyed Saturday’s break in the cold temperatures by taking a stroll on the Boardwalk. Lindsey Healy, all star director with Spirit Factory, said the event is popular with her athletes’ families.
“How could you not love Wildwood?” she said. “Families come down here for the weekend and enjoy their weekends. And it’s beautiful weather, finally.”
This year has been a bit rocky so far for Spirit Factory’s top team, which had a tough run at a regional tournament in Georgia in February. But shortly before they took the floor Saturday, the team was in high spirits.
Solid performances by her younger peers earlier in the day had Senior Level 5 team member Dana Reilley confident going into her group’s performance last night.
“I have a really good feeling about today,” she said. “I’ve been saying it all day.”
The event will continue today at 7 a.m. and last until all events are completed. Tickets are $20. Scores over the two days are averaged to make a final score. The top six finishers in Levels 5 and 6 earn bids to nationals.
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